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3 3433 07098977 1 


Chas.H. Caffin 





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iPYRIGHT, 1908, BY 


Published, July, 1908 




I. The Feeling for Beauty 11 

II. Art and Her Twin Sister, Nature . . 21 

III. Nature is Haphazard; Art is Arrangement . 30 

IV. Contrast 40 

V. Geometric Composition 55 

VI. Geometric Composition (Continued) ... 63 

VII. The Action, Movement, and Composition of 

THE Figure 75 

VIII. The Classic Landscape 83 

IX. Naturalistic Composition 95 

X. Naturalistic Composition (Continued) . . 106 

XI. The Naturalistic Landscape . . . .117 

XII. Form and Color 129 

XIII. Color 144 

XIV. Color — Values — Subtlety 160 

XV. Color — 'Texture, Atmosphere, Tone . . 180 

XVI. Color— Tone 204 

XVII. Brush-work and Drawing 219 

XVIII. Subject, Motive, and Point of View . . 230 




View on the Seine . Homer D. Mart 

La Disputa del Sacramento 


The Manitou Lunette 

Dido Building Carthage 

The Sower ... 

Young Woman Opening a 

Crossing the Brook . 


Washington Crossing the Delaware 

Prince Balthazar Carlos 

The Little White Girl 

The Mystic Marriage of St 

Light and Shade 



en . Frontispiece 

. Raphael 56 

' . Raphael 66 

E. H. Blashfield 86 

J. M. W. Turner 92 

. J. F. Millet 100 

J. Vermeer 108 

J. M. W. Turner 118 

J. B. C. Cor at 128 

E. Leutze 140 

Velasquez 168 

J. M. Whistler 176 

Correggio 192 

George Inness 202 

Anton Mauve 246 





SOME of you, I expect, collect photographs of 
pictures in connection with your history studies. 
These portraits of the principal characters and pic- 
tures, illustrating great events, places, costumes, and 
modes of living of the period, add greatly to the in- 
terest of your reading. They bring the past time 
vividly before your eyes. 

But it is not this view of pictures that we are 
going to talk about in the present book. I shall have 
very little to say about the subjects of pictures — 
partly because you can find out for yourselves what 
subjects interest you ; but mostly, because the sub- 
ject of a picture has so very little to do with its 
beauty as a work of art. Eor it is this view of a 
picture, as being a work of art, that I shall try to 
keep before you. 

I remember seeing the photograph of a picture 
hanging in a place of honor on the wall of a girl's 
room ; and I asked her why she had chosen this par- 
ticular one out of many that she had. You see that, 
in order to help anyone, you have to try to get into 


A Guide to Pictures 

their minds, and find out how their minds are work- 
ing ; and as much of my work is with girls and boys, 
I try to get from them hints as to the best way of 
helping them. Well, this girl, let me tell you, bub- 
bled over with life and fun, swam like a fish and 
climbed trees like a squirrel; but she had her 
thoughtful moods, when, as often as not, she would 
lay out her collection of photographs of pictures on 
the floor, and not only look at them, but think about 
them. And I have no doubt that she was in one of 
those moods, when she chose out this particular 
print and hung it on her wall, in order that she might 
see it often. 

So I asked her why she had chosen it, and she 
said : " Because I liked it.'' I asked her why ? 
" Oh, I don't know," she said. 'Now that is just the 
sort of girl or boy for whom I am writing this book. 
Not that I think that girl would have liked her pic- 
ture any better for knowing why she liked it. Then, 
" What is the good," you ask, " of writing a book 
to help her to know ? " A very shrewd question and 
quite to the point. Let me try to answer it. 

When the girl said she did not know why she liked 
the picture, I think she meant that she could not put 
into words what she felt. It was the feeling with 
which the picture filled her that made her like it. I 
could understand what she meant, because I remem- 
bered an experience of my own. The first time that 
I saw Kaphael's Dispuid^ which decorates a wall in 
one of the rooms of the Vatican in Kome, I had set 
out with my guidebook, intending to study all the 


The Feeling for Beauty- 
paintings by Raphael that decorate these rooms. I 
entered the first room and, I suppose, looked round 
the walls and saw three other paintings; but all I 
recall during this visit was the Disputd. I sat down 
before it and remained seated ! I do not know how 
long, but the morning slipped away. What I 
thought about as I looked at the picture I cannot 
tell you. My impression is that I did not think 
at all; I only felt. My spirit was lifted up and 
purified and strengthened with happiness. Return- 
ing to my hotel, I read about the picture in the 
guidebook. It appeared that one of the figures 
represented Dante. I had not noticed it, and as I 
read on I found out other things that I had missed ; 
that, indeed, the whole subject, so far as it could 
be put into words, had escaped me. I had no knowl- 
edge of what the painting was about; only I had felt 
its beauty. 

Since then I have studied the picture and discov- 
ered some of the means that Raphael employed to 
arouse this depth of feeling, and the knowledge has 
helped me to find beauty in other things. 

So, to go back to my girl friend, I would not dis- 
turb the beauty of her feeling with teachy-teachy 
talk, any more than I would talk while beautiful 
music was being played. But, suppose in a simple 
way I could make her understand that I, too, felt 
the beauty of the picture ; and, as I have learned 
a little how to express feeling in words, should try 
to tell her how I felt the beauty. Might it not add 
to her pleasure, if she discovered that I was putting 


A Guide to Pictures 

into words some of the feeling that she herself had, 
and perhaps suggesting other beauties that she had 
not felt ? 

Well, that is what I hope to do for you in this 
book, to put some ideas into your head, that will 
lead you to look for and find more and more beauty 
in pictures and in nature and in life. Ideas, mark 
you, not words. We shall have to use words, but 
words are of no account, unless they make you feel 
the idea contained in them. 

I say feel; and you will notice I have used these 
words, feel and feeling, several times already. I 
have done so because I want to impress upon you 
that the enjoyment of beauty, whether in pictures 
or any other form, comes to us through feeling. It 
may lead to thinking, and perhaps should, but it does 
not begin with thinking or reasoning, as does, for ex- 
ample, algebra or geometry. Nor can we, as we 
say, " get it down fine," in the way we do with the 
Latin declensions. When you have learned them 
thoroughly, you know them once and for all, and 
you know about them just what every other girl 
and boy who has learned them knows. With feel- 
ing it is otherwise. What you feel is different to 
what I feel; we can never feel alike. No two peo- 
ple can. So I am not going to tell you what you 
ought to feel about pictures ; nor am I going to try 
and persuade you to like one and not like another. 
Therefore, this book would not be much help to you 
in passing an examination about pictures, if any- 
thing so foolish could be supposed. But I hope it 


The Feeling for Beauty 

may start your imagination off in a great many 
new directions, and help you to discover more and 
more of beauty not only in pictures, but in life. 

For we should study pictures not solely for their 
own sake, but also as a means of making our lives 
fuller and better. If you ask me what is the most 
beautiful thing in the world, I shall not say art, 
although I am writing about pictures — but life — its 
fullness of possibility and abundance of oppor- 
tunity. Especially young life ; the lives of you girls 
and boys, who, as yet, have so few mistakes to regret, 
so much to look forward to of promise and fulfill- 
ment. What you will make of those lives of yours 
may depend a little upon schools and teachers, pa- 
rents and friends, money and health, and many other 
things, but most of all upon your ot\ti wills. I won- 
der if you have read the life of Robert Louis Steven- 

He had only such education as many other boys 
of his time had, little or no money, and very poor 
health. But what a deal he made of his own life 
and how he helped the lives of others ! What a 
fellow he was for fun, and how he loved wisdom; a 
great worker and a greatly conscientious one; not 
satisfied unless his work was the very best that he 
could make it. And the reason was that he loved 
beauty as well as vnsdom; and in his life and writ- 
ings, because in his own inward thoughts wisdom 
and beauty went hand in hand. I know of no better 
example of the full life; of a life made the most 
of, in the best and truest sense, with gladness and 


A Guide to Pictures 

strength for itself and for the lives of others. While 
his body sleeps on an island mountain, overlooking 
the vast beauty of sky and ocean, his spirit stays 
with us. 

The secret of the fullness of Stevenson's life was 
that, so far as in him lay, he left no portion of the 
garden of his life uncultivated. There were no waste 
places, every part was fruitful. He did the best 
that he could for his poor, weak body; kept his in- 
tellect bright with learning, his fun alert with hope, 
his friendships warm with sympathy; and kept his 
life and work sweetened and purified and strength- 
ened by the love of beauty. He was in a high sense 
in love with life — his own life, the lives of others, 
and life in art and nature, and the abundant harvest 
of his garden is the love that countless men and 
women and children bore him and still maintain. 

Such fullness of life is rare. Boys and girls, and 
for that matter men and women, cultivate some part 
of themselves, and let the rest go to waste. And 
the part which is most apt to be overlooked is the 
sense of beauty. We train our bodies and our minds, 
but neglect those -&^ve senses, which are just as much 
a part of us. It is true that men train their senses 
for the practical purposes of business: the watch- 
maker, for instance, his delicacy of touch; the tea 
producer, his senses of taste and smell ; the mariner, 
his senses of sight and sound. But business, though 
necessary, is not everything. We do not confine the 
exercise of our bodies and minds to work and busi- 
ness, but use them also for enjoyment, and train them 


The Feeling for Beauty 

for this purpose. Do we not learn to swim, play 
hall and tennis, and practice other bodily exercises 
for the pure enjoyment of them ? Or in our leisure 
moments busy our brains with study of bees, ma- 
chinery, history, all kinds of difficult subjects not as 
work, but as a relief from work ? We call them our 
" hobbies," and indulge them for pleasure, and find 
that the pleasure improves our health and spirits, 
and in the end even makes us do our necessary work 
better, and so find more pleasure in that also. For 
it is in what we know best and can do best that we 
really take most pleasure. And though life cannot 
be all pleasure, yet pleasure, rightly understood, 
should be one of the chief aims of life. And one 
of the chief sources of pleasure is to be found in the 
beauty that reaches our minds through the senses, 
especially through the senses of sight and sound. 

Let me illustrate in a simple way how one child 
will gain pleasure from her senses while another 
doesn't. Both have their five senses in working order 
— smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound — and have 
been in the woods gathering flowers. They reach 
home. One throws her handful down on a sofa, 
table, or chair, or the nearest bit of furniture, and 
goes off to do something, or it may be nothing, leav- 
ing the flowers to wither and become an untidiness. 
What made her gather them ? Perhaps, because she 
is full of health and had to run about and do some- 
thing ; perhaps, because she has not quite gotten over 
the fondness that most of us had, as babies, for 
breaking and tearing things. It amused her to break 


A Guide to Pictures 

the big stems and tear off the vines or pull up the 
little plants. Or possibly she was really attracted 
by the beauty of the flowers, but soon tired of them, 
and went off to other things. 

Not so, however, with her companion. She 
spreads a paper on the table, lays out her flowers, 
brings one or two vases, and settles down to the 
pleasure of arranging them. She picks up a flower, 
and while she waits to decide in which vase it shall 
be put, see how delicately she handles it! You can 
tell in a moment she has a feeling of love and ten- 
derness toward the flower. She puts it in a vase, and 
then her eye travels over the other flowers to decide 
which shall bear it company. What color, what form 
of flower will match best the first one ? And while 
she is making the choice almost unconsciously she 
sniffs the fragrance of that spray of honeysuckle. 
Well, she lingers so long over the pleasure of arrang- 
ing her flowers that we have not time to stay and 
watch the whole proceeding; but presently, when we 
come back, we find the vases filled and set about the 
room where they will look their best ; this one in the 
dark corner with the wall behind it; another on 
the window sill, so that the light may shine through 
the petals of the flowers. And we think to ourselves 
what taste the girl has ! For (have you ever thought 
of it?) we use the word taste, which originally de- 
scribed only the sense of tasting things with the 
tongue, in order to sum up a finer use of the senses 
of sight and sound. 

And this finer use of the senses, such as Steven- 


The Feeling for Beauty 

son cultivated, so that his life and works are beauti- 
ful as well as wise and good, we too may cultivate, 
and it is the object of this book to help us do it. I 
call it a guide to pictures, but I want to make it 
much more than that — a guide for the wonderful 
organs, your senses, that they may grow more and 
more to feel the beauty that is all about us in nature 
and in life, as well as in pictures and other works 
of art. So beauty is really our subject, beauty in 
nature and in art. The two are separate, though 
united as twin sisters. 

As I write, many of you are enjoying your sum- 
mer vacations, face to face with nature. The health 
of the mountains or the sea is in your blood; your 
bodies know the joy of active movement ; your minds 
are filled with the interest of new scenes and adven- 
tures, of sports and fun with friends. But every 
once in a while I think it likely that your happiness 
is increased by something beautiful you have seen 
in nature. Perhaps even now, as you read these 
words, there comes to you the memory of some sun- 
set, or moonlight on the water, of early morning mist 
creeping among the tree tops, or I know not what of 
nature's beauty, suddenly revealed to you because you 
were in the mood to receive it. 

You were in the company of a friend, and you 
drew your arm closer through his or hers, and both 
were the happier for the beauty that was before you 
and had entered into your hearts. Or perhaps you 
were alone, and the eagerness came over you to make 
some record of your joy — in a letter to a friend or 


A Guide to Pictures 

in some poem for no eyes but your own. You felt 
the need to give utterance to your joy in nature's 
beauty. You bad in you a little of the desire that 
stirs the artist. 

And this brings us to the other kind of beauty, 
which is not of nature, though it is of nature's 
prompting — ^the beauty created by the artist. We 
are going to study the work of artists who create 
beauty in pictures. But do not make the mistake 
some people do, of thinking that it is only painters 
who are artists. An artist is one who fits some 
beautiful conception with some beautiful form of 
expression. His form of expression, or as we say, 
his art, may be sculpture, painting, or architecture; 
or some handicraft, as of metal or porcelain or em- 
broidery ; or it may be music, the composing of music 
or the rendering of it by instrument or voice ; it may 
be acting or some forms of dancing ; it may be poetry 
or even prose. The artist, in a word, is one who not 
only takes beauty into his own soul, but has the gift 
of art that enables him to communicate the beauty to 
others by giving it a form or body. If he be a mu- 
sician, he gives it a form of sound; if a painter, a 
form visible to the eye. It is his power of creating 
a form for the beauty which he feels that makes 
him an artist. And in its various forms — poetry, 
music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and the rest 
— art is man's highest expression of his reverence for 
and joy in beauty. 




A Worli of Art is Distinguished hy Selection 

I IT the previous chapter we talked about beauty, and 
noted that there were two kinds — beauty in na- 
ture and beauty in art. Let us now look a little more 
closely into this distinction, so that we may grasp 
the idea of what a work of art is. 

Since what the painter puts onto his canvas is visi- 
ble to the eye, it will generally represent or suggest 
some form in nature. So the painter is a student of 
nature. But not in the same way as the botanist who 
studies the forms of trees and plants which grow 
above the ground, or the geologist who explores the 
secrets of the earth below the ground. These we call 
scientists or scientific students, because the object of 
their study is exact knowledge of nature. They ad- 
dress themselves directly to our intellects and teach 
us to hnow the facts of nature accurately; but the 
painter appeals first to our sense of sight and helps 
us to feel more deeply the heauty of the visible world. 

Unless we thoroughly grasp this difference we 
shall never properly understand what painters try 
to do, nor be able properly to enjoy their pictures. 


A Guide to Pictures 

So here, at the beginning of our talks together, let 
us look into this difference. 

We have said that the painter represents or sug- 
gests some form in nature. Sometimes he represents 
the actual appearance of nature, as when he paints 
a portrait or a landscape. At other times he sug- 
gests the possible appearance of things, which he has 
never seen but only imagines, as the old Italian 
painters did when they made pictures of St. George, 
killing the dragon, or of Christ in the manger, with 
a choir of angels hovering above. They had never 
seen a dragon, but from their study of the lizard, 
which in hot countries like Italy may constantly be 
seen basking on the hot rocks or darting away at your 
approach, they imagined a form and painted it so 
that it suggests an actual creature. So, for their an- 
gels, they studied the forms and movement of chil- 
dren, as they ran and played, with hair and skirts 
streaming in the wind ; also the wings and the flight 
of birds, and the appearance of the sky. Mature 
was, as it still remains, the artist's teacher. Just in 
what way he learns of her and uses her lessons, I am 
going to try and show you. But first let me remind 
you that nature and art, though so close together that 
I have called them twin sisters, are quite separate. 
I do so because many people confuse them together. 
Frequently you will hear a person say of some view 
of nature that it is " beautiful as a picture." Well, 
very likely it is, but as we shall see, not in the same 
way. Or some one will exclaim, as he stands in 
front of a picture, " It looks like nature." So it 


Art and Her Twin Sister, IN'ature 

does ; and yet it is not really like nature. Why both 
these remarks are in a small way true, but in the big 
sense not true, we shall discover, I hope, presently. 
Meanwhile, suppose we lay the book aside and look 
out of the window. 

Are you living in the country or city? In either 
case you are looking out at nature, as the painter 
understands the word. For, while we who are not 
painters, when we talk of nature, have in mind the 
earth and sky and water, and the living things that 
move therein, as beasts, birds, and fishes, and the 
forms that live but do not move, trees and flowers 
and seaweed, for example, and also the chief of liv- 
ing and moving creatures — man; the painter uses 
the word nature in a wdder sense. With him it 
means everything outside himself, so that it includes 
things made by man: streets, buildings, chairs, and 
tables — the thousand and one objects that man's 
brain and handiwork have fashioned out of the ma- 
terials of nature. 

But you are waiting at the window, looking out, 
perhaps, upon a street — a row of buildings, many 
people on the sidewalks, carriages and carts, passing 
before your eyes; or else into the garden of your 
country home, with its trees and shrubs and flowers, 
and possibly a view of fields and hills and woods. In 
each case the woodwork of the window frames in the 
view. Move slowly backward and you will notice that 
the view grows smaller and smaller; advance again 
and the view spreads out farther and farther ; step to 
the left and some of the view on that side disappears, 


A Guide to Pictures 

but you will see more toward the other side. Im- 
agine for a moment that the woodwork of the win- 
dow is a picture frame and you are deciding how 
much of the outside view you will include in the 
picture. If you own a kodak and are in the habit of 
taking pictures, you move the camera or your posi- 
tion until the image in the " finder " seems to be 
about what you wish to photograph. Whether you 
thus use the " finder " or the window frame, you are 
selecting a bit of nature for a picture. 

This should make clear to you one of the differ- 
ences between nature and art. ^Mature extends in 
every direction all round the artist, an unending 
panorama from which he selects some little portion 
to form the subject of his work of art. But he car- 
ries his selection still farther, for even in the part 
of nature that he has selected there is so much more 
than he could ever put into his picture. Take an- 
other look out of the window. What a mass of de- 
tails the whole presents ! And, if we fix our eye on 
any one of its parts, it also is made up of a number 
of details. It would be impossible for the artist to 
paint them all. And so, also, if your view from the 
window is a country scene and you look at one 
object, that elm, for example. Do you think it would 
be possible for an artist to paint all the scales of the 
bark, all the spreading limbs, much less all the little 
branches and twigs and the countless leaves ? 

As the artist cannot possibly paint everything, he 
must choose or select what he will leave out and what 
he will put in. Once more, the characteristic of art 


Art and Her Twin Sister, N^ature 

is selection^ while that of nature is abundance. We 
talk of nature's prodigality ; we say that she is prodi- 
gal of her resources, flinging them around as a prodi- 
gal or wasteful man flings around his money. You 
know, for example, how the dandelion scatters its 
seeds broadcast over the la\vn ; how the daisies spread 
over the fields until the farmer calls them the 
" w^hite weed " ; how the woods become choked with 
undergrowth and the trees overhead crowd one an- 
other with their tangle of branches. The la^vns and 
fields must be continually weeded ; the woods cleared 
and thinned. Man, in fact, when he brings nature 
under the work of his hand, is continually selecting 
what he shall weed out and what he shall let remain. 
And so the artist with the work of his hand — his 
work of art. 

Suppose we make believe that we are watching an 
artist as he begins his work of selection. The one 
over there, sitting under a big, white umbrella with 
his easel in front of him, will serve our turn. If 
he will let us look over his shoulder, we shall see 
that with a few strokes of charcoal upon his canvas 
he has already selected how much of the wide view 
in front of him he will include in his picture. It 
finishes, you see, on the right wdth a bit of that row 
of trees that stand against the sky, and on the left 
with that small bush, so that in between is a little 
bit of the winding road, with a meadow beyond 
dotted with cows. He has squeezed some of the 
paint from the tubes on to his palette, and takes up 
his brushes. ISTow watch him ^' lay in," as he would 


A Guide to Pictures 

say, " the local colors " ; that is to say, the general 
color of each locality or part of the scene. 

The general color of the sky is a faint blue; of 
the trees on the right, a grayish gTeen; of the bush 
on the left, a deeper green ; of the meadow, a yellow- 
ish green, while that of the road is a pinkish brown, 
for the soil of this part of the country, we will sup- 
pose, is red clay. All these local colors he lays in, 
covering each part with a flat layer of paint so that 
his canvas now presents a pattern of colored spaces. 
Yet already it begins to " look like something." We 
can see, as it were, the ground plan, on which the 
artist is going to build up his picture. But now he 
must stop, for his paints are mixed with oils and 
take some time to dry, and he cannot work over the 
paint while it is sticky. 

A few days later we pay him another visit. He 
has been busy in our absence ; the picture looks to 
us to be finished, and we begin to compare it with 
the natural scene in front of us. In nature those 
trees on the right stand so sharply against the sky 
that we can count their branches. Evidently the ar- 
tist hasn't, for in his picture he has left out a great 
many of them ; indeed, he has put in only a few of 
the more prominent ones. See, too, how he has 
painted the trees ; he hasn't put in a single leaf. In- 
stead he has represented the foliage in masses, lighter 
in some parts where the sun strikes, darker in the 
shadows. When we compare his trees with the real 
ones, they are not a bit the same, and yet the painted 
ones look all right; we can see at once that they 


Art and Her Twin Sister, Nature 

are maples and in a general way very like the real 

The artist hears us talking, and he says : " My 
business, you see, is not to make real trees ; that's na- 
ture's business ; I'm a maker of pictures, and in them 
I only suggest that the trees are real. I try to make 
you feel that these are maple trees " — and he points 
to that part of the picture with his brush — " and I 
hope also to make you feel their beauty. I don't 
give you an imitation of nature, but a suggestion 
of nature's truth. 

" Now see," he says, " how I have painted those 
cows : just a few dabs of brownish red and black and 
white, showing against the green of the grass. Do 
they suggest cows to you ? " " Yes," we say in 

" Well, I hope they do," he replies, " and that you 
don't say ^ yes ' merely to please me. But if you 
had never seen a cow would you know from these 
dabs what a cow is really like ? 

" I am sure you wouldn't," he goes on without 
waiting for an answer ; " and if the farmer gave me 
a commission to paint his favorite prize cow, I am 
sure he wouldn't be satisfied with these dabs. And 
I should not blame him. No, in that case I should 
place the cow where I could study it closely: the 
long, straight line of the back, the big angle of the 
hips, the strong-ribbed carcass, and its covering of 
glossy hair, the mild liquid eyes, and damp nose. 
These and a great deal more I should paint, if I were 
near the cow. But look at those cows over yonder. 


A Guide to Pictures 

They are a long way off, and consequently look very 
small. I can't see in them the different points that 
I know a cow has ; to my eyes from where I sit they 
look as I have painted them. For an artist does not 
paint what he knows to be there, but what he can see 
from here. 

" Look," he continues, picking up a tiny pointed 
brush. " See what happens, when I paint what I 
know to be there ! " And with quick, deft strokes 
he proceeds to sharpen the lines of the back of one 
of his cows in the picture, and give her four very 
decided legs ; to hang a tail ; and give her horns ; and 
titivate the head, put in an eye and make the tongue 
curl round the muzzle. 

" Why, it looks like a toy cow ! " we exclaim. 
And so it does. 

And now, instead of intruding any longer on our 
artist friend's time, let us see where our visit to him 
has brought us. 

We have noted that one difference between nature 
and art is, that nature is inexhaustible in her effects, 
and that an artist selects from her only some little 
part to make his work of art. Secondly, that he does 
not paint the whole of what he has selected, but out 
of it again selects certain parts ; sufficient not to imi- 
tate the original, but to suggest its appearance. 
Thirdly, that natural truth is not the same as artis- 
tic truth; that while the scientific man studies one 
thing at a time so that he may know what is there, 
the artist tries to obtain an impression of the whole 
scene, and paints each part of it, not as he knows 


Art and Her Twin Sister, I^ature 

it to be, but as he can see it from his fixed 

By this time you can better understand that to say 
of nature " It is as beautiful as a picture," is a loose 
way of talking. I^ature is beautiful in the endless 
variety of its effects ; a picture, for the one or two ef- 
fects, choicely selected by the artist. And to say of a 
picture that it looks like nature is equally inaccurate, 
for the artist does not imitate nature but suggests it, 
which, as we have seen, is a very different thing. 

However, I should tell you, that some painters do 
imitate nature. I have seen a picture in which the 
painter had represented a five-dollar bill, pinned on 
a board, and so accurately had he imitated the bill 
and the board that, until you were close to them and 
passed your hand over the flat canvas, you would not 
know it was a picture. And there is a story told of 
a Greek painter, Zeuxis, that he once imitated a 
bunch of grapes so exactly, that the birds flew down 
and pecked at it. 

But, although it is a fact that a great many people 
think this exact imitation of nature a very fine thing, 
they do so because they have not seen many pictures 
or found out what a work of art really is. I am in- 
clined to think that, by the time you have fiinished 
this book, if not sooner, you will look upon such ex- 
amples of skill and patience as labor in vain, so far 
as art is concerned. 

It is all very well for the conjurer to boast that 
the quickness of his hand deceives your eye. But the 
aim of the artist is not deception. 



WE have seen that the characteristic of nature is 
abundance, while that of art is selection. 
Now let us note another difference between the two 
— ^nature is haphazard, art is arrangement. 

I do not forget that nature works bj laws; that 
the workings of nature are not accidental, but the 
result of certain causes which produce certain ef- 
fects; so that the operations of nature produce an 
endless chain of cause and effect. Thus in the fall, 
because the sap flows downward in the tree, the fiber 
of the leaf's stalk is gradually weakened, until the 
leaf by degrees loses its hold on the branch, and, 
because everything obeys the law of gravitation, falls 
to the ground. But where will it fall ? That may 
depend upon the force and direction of the wind. It 
may happen that the wind is from the north or from 
the west; that its breath is soft, or that it blows a 
gale. I say it " may happen" so or so ; for this is 
our habit of speech. When we don't understand the 
cause from which an effect springs, we use the word 
" happen," as if the affair were an accident or 

But a scientific man would say that such words 


Mature is Haphazard: Art Is Arrangement 

as '^ accident " and " chance " are inaccurate, and 
would tell us why the wind was blowing from a cer- 
tain direction at a certain moment, and tell us why 
it was soft or fierce. And yet, why should the tiny 
leaf have been ready to let go just at the moment 
when the breeze came ? Upon what particular spot 
will the dandelion seed, after floating far in the air, 
alight? We may believe that the moment and the 
place are controlled by one Great Mind to whom 
everything is plain. But to our finite minds, whose 
capacity to understand is limited, such things are not 
plain. They seem to us like chance, and their results 
appear to our eyes haphazard. 

Compare, for example, the appearance of nature 
with that of a well-kept garden. The latter has 
straight paths, intersecting one another; trim bor- 
ders with rows of lettuces and radishes ; separate 
plots, reserved for peas, com, spinach, potatoes, and 
other crops. Even the straggling vines of the cucum- 
bers are kept within certain bounds. Everywhere is 
an appearance of order and arrangement, beside 
which the tangle of growth in the woods, or even the 
dotting of trees on the hillside, seems haphazard. 
Or look out into the street, which, as you remember, 
in the painter's sense of the word is a part of nature. 
The city authorities have laid out the lines of the 
street, but the buildings vary in size and style ; each 
one according to what happened to be the need and 
the taste of the man who built it. And the appear- 
ance of the sidewalk and roadway will vary from day 
to day and hour to hour, according to what may be 


A Guide to Pictures 

the number and the character of the people and of 
the vehicles, as they happen to move or stand still. 
Compared with that garden, the appearance of the 
street is haphazard. 

Compare two parlors. One is a medley of furni- 
ture and bric-a-brac, of all sorts of sizes and shapes 
and colors, picked up at auction sales, or in the 
shops, each because it happened to be a bargain or 
to strike a moment's whim, and then set in the parlor 
where there happened to be room for it. The other 
parlor, on the contrary, shows signs of order and ar- 
rangement. There are fewer objects in it, and they 
have been carefully chosen and arranged for the 
double purpose of making the room comfortable and 
agreeable to the eye. It is an illustration of good 
taste in selection and arrangement. 

The haphazard of nature we enjoy. But the con- 
fusion of the parlor distresses us, if we have any 
sense of selection and arrangement. This sense the 
artist possesses in a marked degree, and on it he 
bases the making of his picture. 

We have already noticed how he selects, but may 
have to mention it again in describing how he ar- 
ranges, since the two acts are mixed up together, as 
when you select some flowers and then arrange them 
in a vase. 

When we first made the acquaintance of the artist 
in the previous chapter, he had already, you will re- 
member, " roughed in " with his charcoal the objects 
he was going to paint. We were so interested in 
what he had selected, that we paid little attention to 


IN'ature is Haphazard: Art is Arrangement 

the arrangement of the objects. It is this that we 
are now going to study. 

His canvas is on the easel, its bare white surface 
inclosed within the four sides. He is going to fill 
this space, not only for the purpose of suggesting to 
us the appearance of the scene he has selected, but 
in such a way that the actual arrangement of the 
objects — the pattern which they make upon the can- 
vas — shall give us pleasure. This he calls his compo- 
sition. The word, as you know, if you have studied 
Latin, means simply " putting " or " placing to- 
gether." But, as the artist uses it, it always means 
that the placing together shall produce an effect that 
is pleasing to the eye. It is only when it does, that 
the result can properly be called a work of art. For 
you will recall what we said in the first chapter, that 
the artist is one who fits his conception with a beau- 
tiful form. And this form is his composition. 

Xow, before we go any farther with the artist's 
method of composition, let me invite you to do a little 
composing on your own account. That wall in your 
special room or den where you hang your favorite 
photographs — how is it arranged? Are the photo- 
graphs pinned up higgledy-piggledy, so as to crowd 
as many as possible on the wall ? Is your only idea 
just to hang them up where you can see them ? Or 
have you placed them together in such a way that 
their actual arrangement, as they spot the open space 
of your wall, is agreeable to your eye ? For, in a 
^^Jy JOUT wall, before you hung the photographs, 
was like the bare canvas of the artist. The four 


A Guide to Pictures 

edges inclosed it; the space is yours to do with it 
what jou wish. 

Suppose, now, that you are starting with the wall 
bare. Your family has moved into a new house, or 
the old one is being repaired. There is your plaster 
wall, as w^hite as the artist's canvas. You are al- 
lowed to decide what shall be done with it. What 
will you do with it? 

Oh ! you are going to choose a paper. Well, what 
shall it be ? Yes, pretty, of course. But pretty by 
itself, or when your pictures are hung ? For, if you 
choose a paper with a large pattern of many bright 
colors, it may interfere with the effect of the pic- 
tures. You don't wish to do this ? Then it will be 
well to choose a paper that is not too prominent ; one 
that has a small pattern, or none at all, only a single 
tint. Some people prefer a neutral tint; one, that is 
to say, which is neither one thing nor the other ; not 
very green, or blue, or red, or yellow, but rather so ; 
some color that is difficult to define. For, because 
this paper does not attract particular attention, it al- 
lows the photographs, hung upon it, to show up more 

However, the papering is your affair, and you 
have made your selection. At last the workmen, 
their ladders, their paste pots, and shavings are 
cleared out of the room and you can begin to arrange 
it. You have placed the furniture where it best fits 
in, looks best, and seems most comfortable, and now 
you turn your attention to each of the four walls. 
Once more, is the placing of the photographs to be 


ITature is Haphazard: Art is Arrangement 

higgledy-piggledy, " any-old-how," just to show 
them, or are you going to arrange them carefully, so 
as to make each wall a pleasing composition ? 

We will suppose you decide upon the latter plan. 
How will you proceed ? I can imagine you choosing 
one of two ways. 

Either you will select your biggest picture, or the 
one you prize most, and place it in the middle of the 
wall, and then place the others on each side of it, so 
as to balance one another. Or, you will feel that 
such an arrangement would be too stiff and formal, 
too obviously balanced, and will sprinkle the pictures 
over the wall space, so that their arrangement is ir- 
regular and looks as if it were accidental, and yet 
seems balanced. For, if you are trying to arrange 
your pictures in the way in which they seem to you to 
look best, consciously or unconsciously you are work- 
ing to secure a balance. 

Yes, one of the principles of artistic composition 
is balance. Like all the principles, adapted by ar- 
tists, it is founded on an instinct of human nature. 
Have you ever noticed that when a man carries a 
bucket of water, he holds the free arm away from his 
body? He does it by instinct, to offset the drag of 
the bucket on his other arm and to balance his body. 
Have you ever walked upon the steel rail of a rail- 
road track ? Most of us have, I imagine. We tread 
pretty firmly for a little while, and then we totter. 
Out go our arms immediately to restore our balance. 
We walk up and down the deck of an ocean liner, 
when the sea is rough, and slope our bodies to the 


A Guide to Pictures 

movement of the vessel. Why? To keep our bal- 
ance. If we lose it we are hurled across the deck in 
a very undignified fashion. On the contrary, what 
a beautiful spectacle is presented when a good 
skater balances backward and forward; perhaps an 
even more beautiful one, when a good dancer who 
feels the joy of movement sways to the rhythm of the 

So, to maintain a balance is an instinct of human 
nature; to lose it produces ugly results; while beau- 
tiful ones may be secured from it, especially if the 
balance is rhythmic. 

Another principle, then, of artistic composition is 
rhythm, and this, too, is founded on an instinct of 
human nature. Let us see what rhythm is. A small 
boy has found an old pot, catches up a stick, and be- 
gins to belabor the pot and make himself a nuisance. 
By and by he gets tired of his own noise, imagines 
his pot a drum, and hits it with rhythmic strokes, 
one following the other in measured beats. Watch 
how his legs begin to move to the time of the strokes, 
and how the other youngsters fall in behind him. 
Left, right, left, right, on they march ; their legs and 
shoulders swinging to the rhythmic beat. I wonder 
if they know they are following an instinct, pretty 
nearly as old as humanity. Probably they don't, 
and wouldn't care if they did. All they know is that 
they are having a good time. That's just it! And 
they are having the same sort of good time that the 
primitive man gave his friends, when he first hit on 
the idea of clapping his hands together in rhythm. 


Mature is Haphazard: Art is Arrangement 

Later on he found he could get more stirring effects 
and save his hands bj rhythmic hammering of one 
piece of wood upon another. Then came along a 
primitive Edison who perfected the principle and put 
tom-toms on the market. And so, in time, music 
came to be invented. For the basis of music and of 
the pleasure that is received from it is its measured 
beat or rhythm. 

It is, however, not only from the actual measured 
beat, appealing to our ear, that we gain pleasure, but 
also from the suggestion of rhythm to our sense of 

A man stone deaf can enjoy watching a dance. 
He has never heard a sound in his life, but his sense 
of sight is stirred to pleasure by the spectacle of 
measured repetition of the movements. Similarly, 
the measured repetitions of stationary objects gives 
us pleasure, — the measured repetition, for example, 
presented by the West Point cadets, as they suddenly 
halt, either in close formation or in open ranks. 
" How beautiful ! " we exclaim. And it is because 
the Athenians realized the beauty of measured repe- 
tition and the pleasure that it gives to the sense of 
sight, that they surrounded their great temple, the 
Parthenon, with ranks of columns, arranged at equal 
distance from one another. For, though they may 
have learned the beauty of repetition from studying 
the tree stems in the woods, yet, when they built their 
work of art, they avoided the haphazard of nature, 
and introduced order and arrangement by making 
the repetitions measured. 


A Guide to Pictures 

Behind the columns, however, high up on the out- 
side of the temple wall they set a frieze or band of 
figures. It extended clear around the temple, rep- 
resenting a procession of people on their way to the 
great festival of the goddess Athene. The remains 
are now in the British Museum ; but, doubtless, you 
have seen casts of portions of it, and will recall some 
in which young men are riding, the head of each 
horse overlapping the body of the one in front of it. 
There is here no longer an actual measured repeti- 
tion, as in the case of the columns. The bodies are 
not separated by exact intervals, nor do they repeat 
the same forms. The youths differ, so do the horses, 
and the actions of the forms are dissimilar. And yet 
the arching of the horses' necks, the prancing of the 
forelegs, and the bodies of the youths swaying to the 
movement of the horses are so arranged, that there 
is no break or interruption or confusion, but the 
whole seems to flow up and down regularly. There 
are no actual, measured intei'vals or actual repeti- 
tions, yet the feeling of both is suggested. The ar- 
rangement of the forms is rhythmic, in that it sug- 
gests rhythm. And the principle of this also the 
Greeks found in nature, as you may, if you watch 
the waves rolling shoreward. 

But all this while the artist's canvas is standing 
white and bare upon the easel, and must continue 
to stand. For, when he gets to work, I want you, not 
only to see what he does, but feel the meaning of his 
intention. And we can best enter into another per- 
son's feeling, if we have experienced something of his 


!N^ature is Haphazard: Art is Arrangement 

feeling in ourselves. So, I have rummaged among 
our own experiences, in order to make you feel how 
much we have in common with the artist. He and 
ourselves are creatures of like nature, with similar 
senses, similar sources of pleasure and pain, and 
similar instincts leading us to do and to like similar 
things. Only the artist has keener senses, and has 
cultivated his instincts and study of nature, and has 
drawn from them certain practical hints to help him 
create his work of art. 

Among the instincts that we share with him are, | 
as I have tried to show — first, an instinctive prefer- 
ence for order and arrangement ; secondly, the need 
of balance and the pleasure we receive from it; 
thirdly, the increased pleasure we derive from bal- 
ance, when it is accompanied with rhythmic repeti- 
tions. These are the principles on which he relies 
when he makes his composition. For let me repeat, 
and not for the last time, that the purpose of liis com- 
position is not only to suggest some scene of nature, 
but to make the composition itself a source of pleas- 
ure to our sense of sight. 



IN the previous chapter we discussed balance and 
repetition as elements of composition. We have 
now to study another element — that of contrast. 
This also results from a natural love of change and 
variety. How sick we should get of candy, if we had 
nothing else to eat! how tired of sunshine, if there 
were never a cold or wet day to make the sun seem 
extra beautiful by contrast ! " Jack," as we know, 
" will become a dull boy," if his studies are not en- 
livened by play; but how worse than dull — stupid 
and ill-tempered — if his play were not relieved by 
something serious. Yes, contrast is the salt of life, 
without which living would be tasteless and insipid. 
More than this, I can hardly believe that a boy or 
girl can grow up to be brave and true, a really fine 
specimen of manhood or womanhood, unless some 
shadow of hardship and pain has passed over the 
sunny period of youth. We have to learn to take the 
bitter with the sweet, and it is through meeting each, 
as it comes along, as a part of the day's work, that we 
gradually build up character. 

So contrast, it seems, serves two purposes in life 
— it adds to the pleasure of life, and it gives force 



and worth to character. Its effects in art are very 
similar. The artist employs it to give variety and at 
the same time character and distinction to the pat- 
tern of his compositions. 

You can find out for yourselves how he does this, 
if you take a piece of paper, a pencil, a pair of com- 
passes, and a straight-edge. First draw a rectangle. 
This is the space to he filled or developed into a com- 
position. ]^ow draw a vertical line up the center of 
it. You will admit that this is not interesting by 
itself; but cut it at right angles with a horizontal 
line, and immediately the figure begins to have some 
character. Immediately, also, if you have any eye 
for balance — and almost everybody has — you will be- 
gin to notice that it makes a great difference at just 
what point the horizontal line cuts the vertical. In 
the first place, whether the arms of the horizontal are 
or are not the same length — then, at how high or how 
low a point on the vertical line they branch out. 
You can experiment with these two lines until the 
cross seems to you to look its best. 

You could not draw anything much simpler than 
this figure; and yet it is sufficient to illustrate two 
principles of contrast in composition — first, that the 
contrast is interesting, and second, that it is made 
more interesting, when the contrasted parts are care- 
fully balanced. !N'ow take the compasses and, cen- 
tering on the point of intersection of the two lines, 
describe a circle. The latter will introduce into the 
figure a still further contrast between curved and 
straight lines. And again your sense of balance will 


A Guide to Pictures 

be brought into play. How far will you make your 
circle extend ? It is for you to say, because you are 
trying to satisfy your own feeling for what will look 
best. ]^ow, as a contrast to this circle, add four 
smaller ones at the extremities of the cross. l!^ext, 
from the center of the big circle draw radiating lines. 
As a last touch of contrast, suppose you draw a seg- 
ment of a circle in each of the four corners of the 
rectangle. , 

By this time we have built up a composition, the 
pattern of which consists of contrasts. But, as I 
dare say you have noticed, it also consists of repeti- 
tions. And once more I will remind you that both 
the repetitions and the contrasts are balanced. Con- 
trast, repetition, and balance — ^these are the simple 
elements of composition. 

Our pattern or composition is a very simple form 
of geometric figure. If you feel disposed, you can 
amuse yourself by devising other kinds of simple pat- 
terns ; starting, for example, with a circle inside your 
rectangular space ; or, selecting, to begin with, a cir- 
cular frame and starting with a triangle or square 
inside of it, and in either case continuing to build up 
or embroider your design with additional features. 
In this way by varying the shape of your original 
frame and the character of the pattern that you put 
in it, you can go on indefinitely inventing designs. 
All these, I want you to observe, are geometric in 
character. They are based upon the figures which 
you find in geometry — the square, rectangle, tri- 
angle, and circle. 



"Now just as the acorn may in time become the 
great oak tree, so this simple basis of geometric de- 
sign is at the root of the compositions of the great 
Italian pictures and of thousands of other pictures, 
even to our own day. Their compositions are based 
upon a geometric plan. The only difference is that 
your plan is clearly visible, while theirs is more or 
less disguised. The reason is that they do not fill 
their spaces, as you did, with simple lines, but with 
forms — figures, columns, buildings, draperies, trees, 
hills, and so on. Consequently, when we speak of 
the " lines " of their compositions, we often mean 
rather the direction which the figure, or the object 
whatever it may be, takes. Thus, a standing figure 
may take the place of your vertical line ; the slightly 
undulating top of the hills behind it may correspond 
to your horizontal line; a curving group of angels, 
floating in the air, may suggest your circle ; while 
your diagonal line may be replaced in the picture by 
the branches of a tree that spread in a diagonal di- 
rection. In other words, what you have done (shall 
I say?) stiffly with compasses and straight-edge, the 
artists do freely and loosely. Yet, I repeat it, under- 
neath this seeming freedom, if you search for it, you 
will find the basis of a geometric design. This I 
hope to show you in the following chapter. Mean- 
while, there is another use for contrast that you 
should know. 

It is the contrast between the light and the dark 
parts of a picture. It is employed, in the first place, 
to make the objects in the picture look more real. If 


A Guide to Pictures 

you ^x your eyes on any object in the room or out 
of doors, you will observe that some parts of it are 
light and some dark, and that there are various de- 
grees of lightness and darkness. It is the light on 
an object that enables us to see it. If there were no 
light on it — if it were in complete darkness, that is 
to say — ^nothing would be visible. And, while it is 
the light that enables us to see the object, it is the 
degree of light on some parts of it and the various 
degrees of darkness on others that enable us to real- 
ize the shape of it. In other words, the contrast of 
light and dark, received by the eyes, communicates to 
our brain the sense of form and bulk. 

That it should do so seems to be the gradual result 
of a habit, unconsciously acquired. Those who study 
such things tell us that we began to perceive things, 
not through the sense of sight, but by the sense of 
touch. The baby reaches out its little hand to feel 
for the mother's breast; it burrows its way to her 
warm body; is comforted by the feel of her arms 
around it. When the child is older and you present 
her with a doll, you may be disappointed that she does 
not at once show pleasure. Instead of her face light- 
ing up with joy, as you hoped it would, she stares at 
the doll in rather a dull way. But presently she 
stretches out her hands, and takes the doll into 
them and begins to feel it all over, and at length 
clasps it in her arms against her body. It is by the 
sense of touch that she seems to have assured herself 
that the doll is " real." When she is older, however, 
if you offer her a new doll, immediately her face 



lightens with gladness of welcome. For, in the 
meantime she has learned to know a doll by sight, 
and now when she gets it into her hands she turns it 
round and round that she may look at it, patting the 
face, however, and the dress, and lifting up the lace 
of the petticoats and handling the sash, because, al- 
though she has grown to recognize things by her sense 
of sight, she has not lost her delight in the sense of 
touch. ISTor will she, I hope, as she grows older. In- 
deed, artists, knowing how much pleasure people de- 
rive from the feel of things, take great pains, as we 
shall see in another chapter, to paint the surfaces, 
or, as they suggest it, the texture of objects, in such a 
way as to make us feel how pleasant it would be to 
touch them. Besides, it makes the figure seem so 
much more real, if they suggest to us that, if we 
touched the face, it would feel like flesh; or, if we 
could pass our hand over the dress, it would seem 
soft and mossy like velvet, or smooth and polished 
like satin. 

But, to return to the contrast of light and dark. 
Although it is by this contrast that we get an impres- 
sion of the form or bulk of an object, most people 
are not aware of the fact. They have grown up in 
the habit of recognizing things by sight, without 
being conscious of how they do so. They just see 
things. Artists, however, have had to learn the rea- 
son and how to apply it to painting. 

The history of modern painting extends back 
about six hundred years. In the thirteenth century, 


A Guide to Pictures 

the paintings which decorated some of the churches 
in Italy were painted in what is called a conventional 
way. That is to say, a certain custom was followed 
by all the painters. They represented the heads and 
hands of their figures, but the bodies were covered 
with draperies, under which there was little or no 
suggestion of any form or bulk. For the whole 
figure appeared flat. It was as if you should make 
a little figure of clay or paste, and then pass a roller 
over it, until its thickness is flattened down into noth- 
ing but length and breadth. The figures, in fact, 
gave no appearance of being real and lifelike because, 
as artists would say, there was no drawing in them. 
There was nothing to suggest that the figures had 
real bodies. 

By degrees, however, people grew tired of these 
unlifelike figures, and a painter named Giotto 
(1266 ?-133T) became the leader of a new motive 
in painting. It was simply to try and make the fig- 
ures look real and the scenes in which they appeared 
seem natural. Instead of following a convention, 
he used his eyes and studied nature. He was no 
longer satisfied to fill in the background of his pic- 
ture with a flat gold tint as the conventional paint- 
ers had done. He mshed to increase the reality of 
his figures by representing them in real surround- 
ings, sometimes in a room, sometimes out of doors. 
Instead of being content to make his pictures flat, 
representing only length and breadth, he set to work 
to create the suggestion of the third dimension — 
depth. He would try and make you feel that you 



could walk from the foreground of his picture, step 
by step, through to the background ; and that, as jou 
reached each figure or object in the scene, you could 
pass your hand round it and feel that it had real 
bulk. I said '^ step by step " and I lay stress on it. 
For what Giotto tried to represent was not merely 
some figures in front and then a big gap that you had 
to jump over before you reached the background, but 
what the artists call the " successive planes " of the 
scene — the step-by-step appearance of the scene. 

Perhaps you will grasp better what this means if, 
when you next go to the theater, you carefully ob- 
serve the scenery, representing some outdoor effect. 
On each side of the stage, very likely representing 
tree trunks, there is a series of " wings," one behind 
another at a distance of say five feet, while across 
the stage, hanging down from the " flies," is a series 
of cut cloths, representing foliage, that correspond 
with the wings and seem to be branches of the tree 
trunks. Well, these cloths and their wings corre- 
spond to the " successive planes " of a picture. They 
lead gradually back and you can actually walk in 
and out of them. But, when you reach the back 
cloth, you are stopped, so far as your legs are con- 
cerned. If you are sitting in. the auditorium, how- 
ever, your eye goes traveling on and on a long 
distance, for the back cloth is itself a picture, in 
which there is an illusion of successive planes. 

The artist's word for representing the successive 
planes is perspective. If you stand between the rails 
of a trolley line or railroad and look along it, the 


A Guide to Pictures 

lines seem to draw together or converge. Yet in re- 
ality you know that they are equidistant from each 
other all the way along. But, since our power of see- 
ing becomes less and less as objects are farther re- 
moved from us, so to our diminishing sight the size 
and distinctness of the space between the rails ap- 
pears also to diminish. In the same way you will 
observe that the width of the street seems to dimin- 
ish, and the people and wagons appear smaller and 
smaller, according as they are seen farther and far- 
ther back in the successive planes. The houses, too 
— ^you know that if you stood in front of any of the 
houses, exactly facing it, the upright sides would 
appear to be, as they are, of equal height, and that 
the windows and cornice would appear in parallel 
horizontal lines. Yet, as you stand in the street 
and look along the houses on either side, they pre- 
sent a different apppearance. In the case of each 
house the upright side, nearer to you, seems higher 
than the one farther off, and the rows of windows 
and the line of the cornice appear to slope downward. 
For the houses as they take their places in the reced- 
ing or successive planes seem to diminish in size. 

This, you see, is another example of what we have 
already said, that the artist does not paint what he 
knows to be facts, but the appearances, as he sees 
them from the point where his eyes are — his " point 
of sight." You remember how in an earlier chapter 
that artist represented, or rather suggested the cows 
in the distance by a few dabs. That was how he saw 
them from his point of sight. I could not tell you 



then, but you will understand now, that he was obey- 
ing the law of perspective, and was representing the 
cows as they appeared in their own proper plane of 
the scene. Do you remember that when he drew in 
their horns and tails and other details, they looked 
like toy cows ? We can now see why. They contra- 
dicted their surroundings ; they no longer were at 
home in their own plane ; their plane was a good way 
off, but they were represented as if close to our eyes ; 
and, as we saw how small they were, they seemed to 
us like toy cows. 

You see, it is entirely a matter of how things look 
to the eyes. The painter, as I have said, does not 
represent the facts as he knows them to be, but the 
impressions which the facts make upon his eyesight; 
and these impressions, by the way in which he ren- 
ders them, he hands on to us. His picture is not 
nature, but a suggestion or illusion of nature. 

Now, although Giotto had dicovered that, to make 
you feel that you could walk back through his pic- 
tures, he must represent the successive planes, he 
only partly found out how to do it. It was not until 
nearly a hundred years later that a painter named 
Masaccio learned how to fill the whole of his pic- 
ture with a suggestion of atmosphere, so that the ob- 
jects took their places properly in their proper 
planes, and it was still later before artists thoroughly 
worked out the methods of perspective. 

The greatest difficulty that they had to surmount 
was how to " foreshorten " their figures, or represent 
them in " foreshortening." A simple way of under- 


A Guide to Pictures 

standing what this means is to stand in front of a 
mirror and stretch out your arms to left and right, 
like the arms of a cross. Each extends a long way. 
But now bring them in front of you and stretch 
them toward the mirror. At once they look shorter, 
or at any rate you cannot see their length. They ap- 
pear foreshortened. Or you may practice a still 
more " violent " example of foreshortening, if you 
are able to place the mirror where you can see your 
body, when lying down with the feet toward it, for 
now the whole length of the body appears foreshort- 
ened in the mirror. The surface of the latter, you 
observe, corresponds exactly with the surface of a 
picture. It is a flat plane upon which is produced 
the appearance of successive or receding planes, and 
though you cannot see the length of your body be- 
cause it is foreshortened, you are made to feel its 

It was a long time before artists overcame the dif- 
ficulty of representing this effect; and the first 
pictures in which it was accomplished were naturally 
regarded as wonders. Since it is not the purpose of 
this book to teach you to draw I will mention only 
one of the principles involved. It is the one we have 
already been discussing — the contrast of light and 
dark, or, as it is called, ^' chiaroscuro.'' Artists soon 
discovered that, if an object has bulk, that part of it 
which is nearest to the light will reflect most light; 
the parts less near, less light ; while the parts that are 
exposed to no light will appear dark. As this was 
how the artists saw the objects, it was so they tried 



to represent them. They learned to " model " the 
object, that is to say, to represent it as having bulk, 
by reproducing in their pictures the contrasts of light 
and dark. At first the contrasts were crude, chiefly 
of the very light and very dark, but by degrees the 
artists became more skillful and learned to represent 
also all the varying gradations of less light and less 
dark. By this time they were better able to sur- 
mount the difficulty of foreshortening. 

You will see how, if you will again stand in front 
of the mirror and stretch out one arm toward it. 
The simplest test is made, if you can arrange that 
the light shall be directly at your back, for then it is 
reflected by the mirror on to the front of you. In 
this case you will notice that your outstretched hand 
receives the most light, because it is nearest to the 
light. If it were represented in this way in a pic- 
ture, our habit of seeing the highest or brightest light 
on the highest or most directly exposed surface of an 
object would make us feel that the hand projected in 
front of the body. 

If, however, you stand before the mirror with light 
falling upon you from one side, the picture in the 
mirror will be quite different in appearance. The 
light and shadow will be more broken up and diver- 
sified. Some part of your hand, it may be simply 
the edges of the fingers, will catch a high light, even 
if it is not the highest ; and light probably will fall 
on your forearm, between the wrist and elbow, and 
again upon the upper part of the arm. Broadly 
speaking, your arm presents three planes of form — 


A Guide to Pictures 

the hand, the forearm, and the upper arm. And, 
though to your untrained eye the light on all of these 
planes may seem the same, to an artist's eye it would 
vary according to the angle at which the light hits 
the plane, or, as the artist himself would say, accord- 
ing to the angle of the plane. These angles vary all 
over the figure, as you may be able to see if you ex- 
amine your picture in the mirror. To mention a 
few, in a general way, there are several angles 
around each of the shoulders, about the breast, round 
the neck, while the face, with its projecting nose, its 
receding eye sockets, its rounded cheeks and so on, 
presents a regular patchwork of angles of plane. Or 
shall I say, the whole figure presents a whole multi- 
tude of facets like a cut diamond ? Only, unlike the 
diamond, its facets are uneven in size and irregular 
in shape. And just as the light on the facets, here 
very light and elsewhere not so light, informs us of 
the shape of the diamond, so do these differently 
lighted angles of plane, when presented in a picture, 
give us the suggestion of the figure's shape. 

And now study the shadows in your mirror pic- 
ture. They result from the opposite of what we have 
been talking about. In their case the angles of plane 
are turned away from instead of toward the light, 
and some parts, such as the hollows of the folds of 
your dress or coat, seem to catch no light at all and 
to be quite dark. I expect you find it much easier 
to detect the various gradations of dark or shadows 
than those of the light. And a great many artists, es- 
pecially in olden times, seem to have seen the shadows 



more than the lights — for they represent the former 
with more subtlety, that is to say, with a keener eye 
for variations, than they do the latter. Indeed, the 
subtle rendering of light is particularly an accom- 
plishment of modern artists. 

Well, if you have carefully studied your portrait 
in the mirror, I think you must have discovered how 
large a part the contrast of light and shadow plays 
in the appearance of the figure, and therefore, what 
an equally important part it plays in producing an 
illusion of reality in the picture. I do not forget 
that an artist by simply drawing an outline with a 
pen or pencil can also suggest to us the appearance 
of an object. But, if he does so, it is by the help of 
ourselves, for he relies on our imagination to supply 
what he has omitted. 

Finally, before we leave the mirror portrait, I 
should like to ask you in which of the following ways 
you see it: Do you see it as a bold, simple compo- 
sition of light and dark ? Or are you conscious of a 
hundred and one little details about the clothes and 
face and hair and so on ? The former is what artists 
call the " broad " way of seeing nature. Many ar- 
tists see nature in this way and represent in a bold, 
free, broad manner simply the big general facts. 
Others, on the other hand, as you may be, are con- 
scious at once of the great variety of details of which 
the whole is composed, and represent the subject in 
a highly detailed manner. ISTeither is the right nor 
the wrong way. Thousands of fine pictures have 
been painted in both ways. On the other hand, if 


A Guide to Pictures 

you find you grow to like one way more than another, 
it will be because you yourself, as well as the artist, 
have the habit of receiving impressions in that way. 
Do not on that account think other people wrong for 
receiving impressions differently and therefore pre- 
ferring the other sort of picture. We cannot help 
having preferences, but they shouldn't prejudice ua 
against the preferences of others. 



TN" the previous chapters we talked about the ele- 
-*■ ments of composition. We found that the com- 
position or arrangement of figures and objects in 
the picture is designed bj artists for two purposes: 
Firstly, to represent some subject; and, secondly, to 
represent it in such a way that the arrangement itself 
will be a source of pleasure. This second purpose is 
what makes the picture a work of art. And we found 
that the artist, in order to make his composition 
give pleasure to our sense of sight, relies upon the 
pleasure that we derive from repetition and contrast, 
and upon the instinct that we all have for keeping 
our balance. The elements of composition, in fact, 
are repetition and contrast in a state of balance, 
sometimes with the added charm of rhythm.. We 
also found that one way in which artists contrive to 
make this balance of repetition and contrast is by 
playing, as we may say, upon the simple geometrical 
patterns of the rectangle, triangle, and circle. 

Now let us study an actual example, and for the 
purpose I have chosen Raphael's Disputd.^ It is 

' Pronounced dees-poo-tdh, with the accent on the last sylla- 
ble. See page 13. 


A Guide to Pictures 

painted on a wall of one of the '' Stanze " or suite 
of rooms in the Vatican, the home of the Pope, in 
Rome. Raphael painted many other decorations in 
these rooms, but this was his first one, executed when 
as a young man of twenty-five he had been sum- 
moned from Florence to work for the powerful pope, 
Julian II. Raphael had been a pupil of Perugino, 
and he took one of the geometrical designs that his 
master had already used. The pupil, however, im- 
proved upon it. 

Observe, first, the shape of the space that Raphael 
was called upon to decorate. It is kno\\Ti as a 
lunette or moon-shape. Xow it was this space and 
no other, that for the time being, he had to decorate. 
What he put into it, must be suggested by, one may 
almost say, must grow out of, the particular shape 
of this space. In fact, the outside lines of the lu- 
nette, and the lines inside, must together form the 
pattern of the composition, ^ow observe how he did 
it. Briefly, he put into it a number of curved lines, 
that would repeat the curve of the outside, and some- 
times also be in contrast to it. Likewise he intro- 
duced horizontal lines, to repeat the bottom edge, 
and vertical ones in contrast. Let us examine it 
more closely. 

Not quite in the center but nearly so, is a small 
circle, on which appears a dove. This circle arrests 
our eye, and its effect is to make us feel very cer- 
tainly that part of the composition is above it and 
part below. It is repeated above by a much larger 
circle. This is not completed; for its regularity of 



e . t ■: ' tfr' .i.iti ^vlii 





Greometrlc Composition 

shape is interrupted by the two figures, seated one 
on each side. The circle seems to pass behind these 
till it merges with the clouds below. Both the small 
and the large circles repeat the outside curves of the 
lunette. On the other hand the curve of the clouds, 
and the figures seated upon them form a contrasting 
curve, and there is another one higher up, formed 
by the two groups of floating angels. In the center, 
above the larger circle, is a figure with a nimbus 
that points up, carrying our eye toward an imagi- 
nary center, somewhere outside the picture, from 
which start the radiating lines. So the impression 
of that part of the picture that we have been exam- 
ining is of uplift. By successive steps the eye and, 
through it, the imagination, are invited to mount up. 
And now for the part below the small circle, sepa- 
rated from what is above by an open space of clear 
blue sky. Do you notice that the band of figures 
stretching across this part takes the form of a curve, 
repeating the curves of the circles but contrasted 
with the two important curves of cloud? Its effect 
is to prevent one's gaze from soaring altogether up- 
ward. This downward curve, as it were, tethers 
the composition to the ground firmly in the two cor- 
ners. And now note that the central feature of this 
lower part is the altar, an equilateral, in strongest 
possible contrast to the curves and circles above it. 
That it may have still stronger emphasis, observe 
how its horizontal lines are repeated down to the 
bottom of the picture by the steps, so that the eye, 
as it were, mounts the steps to this central feature. 


A Guide to Pictures 

Purther the equilateral is again enforced and also 
balanced by the vertical and horizontal lines, form- 
ing a suggestion of equilateral figaires in the corners. 
The one on the right is actually a doorway ; the black 
part is the door. Some artists might have felt it was 
a drawback to have a bit thus cut out of the picture. 
'Not so Raphael. There, as elsewhere in these rooms, 
he takes the doorway into his composition and makes 
it serve a very useful purpose of emphasising the cor- 
ner, and then invents another structure to strengthen 
equally the corner opposite. 

]^ow note the radiating lines of the pavement. In 
a general way they repeat the radiation of the lines 
at the top of the picture ; but they are farther apart 
and bolder, as befits the bolder character of the lower 
part. Have you discovered the point from which 
these lines of the pavement radiate ? By using a 
straight edge to each in turn, you will find that all 
the lines, if continued would meet within the little 
circle of ornament that stands upon the altar. To 
this point also the gaze of many of the figures is 

Some of the figures, however, are standing so that 
though they gaze towards this center, the lines of 
their bodies lead our gaze upward as well as towards 
the center. Then again, beside the altar is a figure 
with its arm pointing upward, so that our eye 
and imagination are not permitted to stop at the 
little circle. For Raphael had to bind the lower and 
upper parts together and make one united composi- 
tion. Very easily the stretch of the sky might have 


Greometric Composition 

divided the whole into two parts. Lest it should, 
he has softened the contrast of the lower and upper 
curves by introducing on the one side a building, on 
the other a low hill with delicate trees springing up- 

I^ow let us pause for a moment, and observe the 
general effect of the lines, which we can do by turn- 
ing to the skeleton drawing on transparent paper. 
It lays bare the plan of the composition, and we can 
see that it is a geometric composition of repetition and 
contrasts, of horizontal, vertical, diagonal and curved 
lines, balanced so as to unite into one single impres- 
sion. To myself the impression is of looking into 
the interior of a circular building, with a vaulted 
roof. I remember just such a building in Kome; 
the Pantheon, built in honor of all the gods, but 
now, as in EaphaeFs time, a temple of the Church. 
As you enter it an altar faces you across the stretch 
of pavement, and the lines of the architecture, as it 
circles round you and above you, are very similar to 
these lines, while overhead the ribs or radiating lines 
of the vaulted ceiling suddenly stop, for there is a 
circular opening at the top, through which you can 
see the sky, and the light strikes down through it in 
diagonal shafts of light. 

I wonder if Raphael had the Pantheon in mind 
when he composed this picture ? Very likely, for 
he must have seen it; and he had a wonderful gift 
for receiving impressions and making use of them. 
And this building, both for its unusual shape and 
particularly from that wonderful opening, carrying 


A Guide to Pictures 

one's imagination upward from finite space to the 
infinite spaciousness of sky, is peculiarly impressive. 
It fits in also with the conception that Raphael seems 
to have formed of the subject which the picture 

For the name of the picture is misleading. It does 
not represent a dispute or argument, as the title 
Disputd would suggest. The real subject is an al- 
legory of the Holy Catholic Church — the Church 
on Earth and the Church in Heaven, the Church 
Militant and the Church Triumphant. And it is the 
idea of the Church on Earth as held by the Roman 
Catholic Church that is represented. You may not 
be a Roman Catholic yourself, any more than I am, 
but none the less let us try to enter reverently for a 
few minutes into the conception of the picture, since 
it will help us to see how wonderfully the composi- 
tion grows out of the idea. 

To the Roman Catholic the highest act of wor- 
ship is the service of the Mass. Here, in conse- 
quence, the altar at which it is celebrated is made the 
most prominent feature of the lower part of the 
picture. It forms, as it were, a keystone of the arch 
of figures ; the bishops, doctors, and faithful of the 
Church on Earth. Their worship is directed towards 
the altar on which rests the receptacle in which the 
Sacred Bread is reserved. On earth the Church 
reveres the Bread as the Body of Christ; a symbol 
of the Body of the risen Christ in Heaven. Above 
the altar hovers a dove, sjTnbol of the Holy Spirit, 
through whom the Words of Holy Scripture make 


Geometric Composition 

known the Glory of the Christ. The sacred books 
are borne by baby forms, " for of such is the 
Kingdom of Heaven." Above the symbol of the 
Holy Spirit, sits enthroned the Christ, with hands 
uplifted, showing the wounds that the nails made. 
On one side sits the Virgin Mother, on the other, 
John the Baptist, who prepared the way before Him ; 
while to right and left is a row of Apostles, Saints, 
and Martyrs. Above the circle of glory appears the 
figure of God the Father, with hands upraised in 
blessing. On either side of Him float angels and 
the sky is thick with baby faces of Cherubs and 
Seraphs, singing " Hosanna.'' Down through their 
midst descend shafts of golden light from the far off 
infinite Sun of Righteousness. 

Whether or not Raphael had in mind the Pan- 
theon, his rendering of the allegory far excels the 
grandeur even of the beautiful temple. For his own 
temple is composed of earth and sky. " The Earth 
is His Tabernacle," and the ceiling thereof the vault 
of the Heavens themselves. Suspended in it is the 
vision of the Holy Trinity, and the throngs of the 
heavenly hosts, whose praise and adoration are the 
mighty echo of the prayers and praises down below 
on earth. 

Thus, you see, with what simple clearness Raphael 
grasped the idea that Pope Julian II asked him to 
commemorate. It is as logical as a proposition in 
geometry, and on simple principles of geometric 
design he built up the idea into a picture. How the 
simplicity of the idea has been elaborated with a 


A Guide to Pictures 

variety of beautiful thoughts, and how the simplicity 
of the design of the structure has been hung, as it 
were, with rich embroideries of detail, I must leave 
you to search out for yourselves. If you do, you 
will find that each figure represents some example 
of repetition or contrast, each a separate beauty and 

In conclusion I will ask you one question. Do you 
perceive the rhythm that prevails in this balance of 
repetition and contrast: how from the bottom of 
the composition the successive waves of pattern flow 
upward, as the thoughts of the Faithful mount in 
successive waves of prayer and adoration? 




TTERE is another example of geometric composi- 
-*- -*■ tion. It is also by Eaphael and is painted 
on one of the walls in the same room that the 
Disputd decorates. But, while the latter's geometric 
plan was very noticeable, this one is more disguised 
and the whole design has a much greater appear- 
ance of freedom. It is recognised by artists as 
one of Raphael's most beautiful compositions, and 
one of the finest examples of space decoration in ex- 

But before we examine the plan on which the 
decoration of this space has been built up, let us 
study the subject. It is usually called Jurisprudence, 
that is to say the principle of Law — both the making 
and the administering of laws. In the Disputd 
the subject, as you remember, was Religion; in two 
of the other panels in this same room Raphael has 
represented Philosophy and Poetry. Here he set 
himself to represent the idea of Law. The idea, you 
observe. In all these four panels, it is an idea, not 
an event or incident, that is represented; but an 
idea — something that has existence only in the mind. 
Eor all the subjects represent abstract ideas; ideas, 


A Guide to Pictures 

that is to say, abstracted or removed from the ex- 
perience of the senses. We cannot, for example, see 
religion or Law; nor touch, taste, smell, nor hear 
them. We can see the policeman on his beat, or the 
judge in court, or the members of the legislature — 
the men who, respectively, maintain, administer, and 
make the laws ; and we can see the record of the laws 
in books. But the idea or principle of Law which 
has caused men to construct all this machinery for 
the making and enforcing of the laws, exists only 
in the mind. 

Therefore, when Raphael was asked to paint the 
subject of Jurisprudence or Law, something that no 
one has ever seen or will see, what did he do ? He 
asked himself the question: When people have a 
respect for Law, how does it show itself in their 
acts ? In the first place they are very careful in the 
making of the laws; they found them upon the ex- 
perience of the past and shape them to fit the needs 
of the future ; they exhibit PRUDENCE. Secondly, 
in the enforcing of the laws, they exhibit two quali- 
ties: FIRMNESS and MODERATION. Though 
they firmly uphold the law, they remember that 

V earthly power doth then show likest God's 
When mercy seasons justice." 

Raphael, then, determined to represent the idea of 
Law, by representing three of its qualities: Pru- 
dence, Firmness and Moderation. These three again 
are abstract ideas. No one has ever seen them or 
will see them; we can only see the results of them, 


Geometric Composition 

the acts which they influence man to do. So if 
Prudence, Firmness and Moderation have no visible 
shape, how could he represent them to the eye ? He 
probably took a hint from a form of a stage play 
that was popular in his day. At any rate he did 
what the authors of these '^ Moralities " or " Alle- 
gories " were in the habit of doing. For they in- 
troduced as characters in their plays the Vices and 
Virtues; making an actor, for example, personify 
Gluttony or embody in his own person the idea of 
Gluttony. Thus, a fat man would be chosen for the 
part, and he would pad himself so as to look still 
fatter; he would make his face shining and greasy, 
and perhaps cover the front of his coat with grease, 
to suggest what a greedy and dirty feeder he was. 
He would come on the stage eating, and anything 
he had to say or do would help the audience to 
realise that the only thing he lived for was to stuff 
himself with food. This was called an embodiment 
or personification of Gluttony; for the idea of Glut- 
tony was suggested in the person of the actor by the 
peculiarities of his body and behaviour. While the 
personifications of the Vices were for the most part 
comic, those of the virtues were beautiful or heroic, 
so that these Moralities or Allegories were as popular 
with the crowd as with people of taste. Sometimes 
the allegory was represented, not with figures moving 
about the stage, speaking and acting, but as a sta- 
tionary group, in which the figures were raised on 
steps, so that a very imposing composition or tab- 
leau was presented. And no doubt, when these were 


A Guide to Pictures 

given on a grand scale artists often arranged the 

On the other hand, the artists were not slow 
to adopt the same idea in their pictures. The 
great altarpieces and large decorations, painted by 
the Italian artists of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth 
Centuries are to all intents and purposes allegories. 
Such certainly is this Jurisprudence of Raphael's. 
He has personified the three virtues of Prudence^ 
Firmness and Moderation. To Prudence he has 
given two faces. One is old, for it gazes back over 
the long past; the other has the freshness of youth, 
as it peers into the future. It is looking at itself 
in a mirror. Why? For everything in these alle- 
gories is intended to convey a meaning to the minds 
of the spectators. Perhaps there are two reasons. 
The face is gazing at the reflection of itself, as it 
now is; for Prudence, besides taking note of the 
past and looking toward the future, must know the 
present. Again, since a mirror reflects what is in 
front of it and shows us our face as others see it, 
it was used by the artists as an emblem of Truth. 
And to know the truth is wisdom, and to act accord- 
ing to truth and wisdom is prudence. So, when you 
see a figure holding the emblem of the mirror, you 
may be sure the artist is personifying the idea of 
Truth, or Wisdom, or Prudence, or all three com- 

On the bosom of Prudence is a winged head ; per- 
haps intended for the head of Medusa, which turned 
to stone every one who looked at it. If so, it is an 



On p. is filrl, ; 

x^r.: thf| other his tlic^ \ -si 

fiJtnre*. T^. j« looking \t itself 

to ednve 



]£ in thdse alh^- 

>fri(ii!; Uj thd minds 

• J f«e two oeasons. 

M ^sit'itMtlfj as it 

f the 


.^1- . .:-■?■ _ 

... in 
s see it, 


'om'y.and to/a 
i prudt^fu'C. 

nire hoking tiie emliJem of tl 
sure Iht ai \ 

isdom, uji '0.' 

Geometric Composition 

emblem here of the terribleness of Prudence, when 
offended. She is gentle in herself, but a terror 
to evil doers. At her side a baby form holds a 
torch. This was used as the emblem of that which 
enlightens the world — Learning; and suggests here 
that Prudence is illuminated by learning, per- 
haps also, that truth and wisdom and prudence are 
themselves lights which lighten the darkness of the 

The figure to the right of the Torch;bearer offers 
Prudence a bit and reins. It is with these that men 
control horses; so they were adopted by painters as 
an emblem of control ; and, knowing this, we recog- 
nise that the woman who holds them is intended to 
personify Moderation. Her whole bearing suggests 
modesty, which is a form of moderation, for both 
words imply that a person has the sense to know 
how far it is right to go, and where it is fit to stop. 

But note the figure of the woman on the right. 
She is of powerful build, seated in a positive sort of 
attitude that has nothing of the gentle retiring char- 
acter of the other figures. She is a personification 
of Firmness, armed for defense, with helmet, cuirass, 
and greaves. But, though she carries no weapon of 
offense, she holds in leash one of those pumas with 
which the ancients used to hunt big game. She 
will, if necessary, pursue and pull down the law's 
transgressors. Meanwhile she bears an oak branch, 
the emblem of strength and victory in civil life, as 
opposed to the laurel of war, for her victories are 
those of peace. The little Cupids, or Amorini, as 


A Guide to Pictures 

the Italians call them^ except the two who carry the 
mirror and torch, are put in simply to increase the 
beauty of the composition. 

I have dwelt first upon the subject of this decora- 
tion, because it is a key to so many of the old paint- 
ings and to many modern ones as well. Their sub- 
jects represent abstract ideas personified, embodied 
in human form ; the particular idea being shown by 
the emblems which accompany each figure. People 
had come to recognise that such and such an em- 
blem indicated such and such an idea, and, whenever 
a painter wished to suggest that idea, he represented 
a figure with the familiar emblem. 

l^ow, too, that we have grasped the meaning of 
this allegory of Raphael's we can better enter into 
his manner of representing it. Since the idea is an 
abstract one^ he has expressed it in an abstract way. 
That is to say, he has not attempted to represent real 
life, or the figures as doing any real thing. It is 
true they are life-like and their actions are quite 
natural; but the positions in which they have been 
placed were chosen in order that the arrangement 
of their limbs and bodies might produce an effect of 
beautiful rhythmic balance. Perhaps this was Ra- 
phael's only thought, for he was above everything 
an artist, whose work in life it is to create forms of 
beauty. Yet he had a mind so ready to receive all 
kinds of impressions that, living as he did in a very 
lawless age, when men were guided more by self 
than justice, he may have realised how beautiful 
would be a reign of law and order. 


Greometric Composition 

Anyhow, this decoration in a wonderful way pos- 
sesses just those characteristics that would belong to 
a state of society in which justice or justness were the 
natural habit and not merely a thing enforced by law. 
How simple life would be if every man did to others 
what he would have them do to him, and instead of 
rivalry and suspicion, what a harmony there would 
be ! It is harmony and simplicity that are the chief 
characteristics of this decoration. 

The simplicity is very marked. There are three 
principal figures. I believe, if there were nothing 
else but these, the balance of the composition would 
be complete, and certainly the allegory would be ex- 
plained. But balance is not necessarily harmony. 
In a school debate, for instance, ten of you on the 
right of the room may say " aye," and ten on the 
left may say " no," to a subject which is being dis- 
cussed between you. There is a balance — ten on one 
side, opposed to ten on the other. 

But in this decoration there is harmony. You 
have only to look at the picture to be sure of it. 
You cannot detect any rivalry between the three 
figures, although one of them is so much more mass- 
ive than either of the other two. All of them seem 
drawn together into one chord of feeling, the lead- 
ing note of which is the head of Prudence, lifted 
above the heads of her companions and seen alone 
against the open space of the sky and in the place 
of chief importance — the center of the arc of space. 
Please remind me presently to say a word about the 
placing of this head, for just now I do not wish to 


A Guide to Pictures 

interrupt the subject that we are considering — the 
harmony of the composition. 

This is brought about particularly by the Amorini 
that, as it were, bind the three figures into a garland 
of festoons. J^ote, first, the two which are on the 
extreme right and left. The wing and arm of the 
former and the inclination of the latter' s whole body 
suggest diagonal lines. These cut across the angles 
of the space, or as they say in geometry, subtend the 
angles ; tying their two arms together and also offer- 
ing a strong contrast to their direction. The baby 
figures also keep the composition from running away 
to nothing at the corners, for they serve the pur- 
pose of making the pattern curl up at each end. Or 
suppose we think of the pattern of the composition, 
as if it were partly made up of a wreath, such as 
we use at Christmas time to festoon our houses. 
Imagine a nail driven into the wall where the head 
of the baby on the left hand is. Attach the wreath 
to it. Now drive another nail into the puma's head 
and between this one and the first nail, let a loop 
of the wreath hang down so that it follows the di- 
rection of the baby's body and a bit of the oak stem. 
This direction, if you look at the picture, suggests 
a festoon. I^ow continue to make festoons — first 
along the arm of Firmness up to the hand of the 
Cupid; now another from that point along the line 
on the Cupid's wing and arm and up the arm of 
the next little figure; another from the top of the 
mirror, following the curve of the arm of Prudence 
up to her head. So far, on the left side of the 


Geometric Composition 

painting we have four small festoons. But I wonder 
if you can make out another one a long one, the 
ends of which are fastened to the head of Prudence 
and that of the baby in the left corner. It follows 
the slope of the figure of Prudence until it reaches 
her foot, the direction of which starts it across the 
gap between her and Firmness, where the line re- 
appears, following the folds of the latter's drapery, 
at first along the floor and then above her greave 
up to the baby's head. 

And now for the right hand side of the painting. 
In the first place there is a repetition of the long 
festoon. This one is suspended from the head of 
Prudence to the top of the wing of the Cupid in 
the right hand corner. It dips down along the curve 
of the torch, down through the folds of Moderation's 
drapery to her feet and then rises up and passes 
round the back of the child. But hanging above 
this main festoon are two rows of smaller ones. 
Firstly we find a very shallow festoon from the head 
of Prudence to the hand which holds the bit; an- 
other from this point to the top of the head of 
Moderation. Below this, however, is again a festoon 
from the bit, along the droop of the reins to the 
hand which holds them, from which point there is 
still another along the arm up to the head. 

JSTow, I do not for a moment wish you to think 
that Raphael chose points in his composition and 
then arranged that the lines of the limbs and dra- 
peries should form festoons between them. In ex- 
amining his work, I am trying not to tell you how 


A Guide to Pictures 

he did it, but to explain what has been done. And 
here, clearly visible, are what I have called, festoons. 
We might describe them by some other name — as 
ripples of movement. For as the water in some shal- 
low brook ripples over and between the stones dan- 
cing in the sunshine, so these curves of movement, 
now in light and now in shadow, flow between these 
figures and flow over them, until the whole composi- 
tion is a woven mass of rhythmic undulations. 
Rhythmic ? Yes, it is just because these ripples or 
festoons present such a beautiful example of rhythm, 
that I have dwelt upon them. In fact it is the 
rhythmic movement of the composition that gives to 
this painting its greatest charm. 

In the following chapter I shall have more to say 
about the rhythmic movements of the figures. Let 
us conclude this one with a few words about the 
geometric plan on which the composition of the 
*^ Jurisprudence " is based. As I have said, it is 
not nearly so apparent as that of the Disputd. The 
latter's plan looks as if it might have been laid out 
with straight edge and compasses. It was, as I have 
told you, adapted from a composition by Raphael's 
master, Perugino, and he, very possibly, may have 
adapted it from some one else's plan; for in those 
days, artists did not see any harm in starting with 
another man's design, and altering it a little, or 
perhaps making it more elaborate to suit their own 
purpose for the moment. But in the short time that 
elapsed between the painting of the Disputd and the 
Jurisprudence the pupil had made great strides. He 


Geometric Composition 

had found his own strength and was working in the 
glory of it. Therefore the Jurisprudence exhibits a 
freedom of design, which so disguises the ground 
plan, that it is difficult to be sure of what it is, al- 
though one still feels that it is geometrical. 

The first thing we note is that the artist has 
strengthened the bottom line of the lunette by repe- 
tition. He has carried a stone bench along the en- 
tire width, which also serves as a seat for the fig- 
ures. Do you see the advantage of making the 
figures seated ? If Raphael had represented them in 
a standing position, he would have had to make them 
smaller in order to get them entirely into the space ; 
and this would have lessened the feeling of bigness 
in the composition. So he invented a device by 
which he could represent them seated. Further, he 
has raised the bench in the center by the addition 
of another step, so as to lift the composition nat- 
urally in the part where the space to be decorated is 

Thus from the corners, or angles of the lunette 
there is on each side a gradual rise up to the head 
of Prudence, that suggests a pyramid or a triangle 
within the curved space. The same triangular effect 
is repeated in the pattern, made by the figures of 
Prudence and the Cupid who holds the torch. The 
curve of the torch is so arranged as to balance the 
slope of the woman's legs. So the geometric plan 
may be the repetition of a smaller, inside a larger 
triangle, contrasted with the curve of the lunette. 
On the other hand, if you look at the painting again, 


A Guide to Pictures 

you notice that the Cupid with the torch is balanced 
by the one who holds the mirror. Their bodies have 
a vertical or upright direction, and then the tops of 
the torch and the mirror supply points which the eye 
seems to join by a horizontal line, so that a rectangle 
occupies the center of the composition as it does in 
the Disputd. This strong contrast of a rectangular 
form to the curve of the lunette, and then again the 
contrast of the diagonal lines, formed by the Cupids' 
figures across the angles of the space, may be the 
simple geometric elements out of which this composi- 
tion grew. 




WHE^N^ a few pages back I spoke of the move- 
ment of the figures I was using the word 
as artists understand it. They do not mean by it 
that the figure is represented as moving its limbs or 
body. Eor this they use the word " action." They 
speak of the action of the figure. But when they 
talk of " movement " they refer to the way in which 
the action is expressed. They mean that one, con- 
tinuous stream of energy winds in and out through 
all the undulations of the action. Thus, in the fig- 
ure of Moderation: the action consists in the fact 
that she is seated, with her legs extended to one side, 
while her body turns in the opposite direction, and 
while the hands are stretched out in the direction 
that the body faces, the head is turned away. If 
you compare the action of this figure with that of 
either of the others, you will see how much more 
complicated it is ; how many more windings it makes. 
And an artist would say that this figure has a fine 
movement, because through all the windings or un- 
dulations of action one can feel a continuous stream 
of energy; so that every part of the figure contrib- 


A Guide to Pictures 

utes exactly its natural share to the action, and the 
lines of the figure, from the toe to the hand that 
holds the bit, flow continuously and harmoniously. 
The only way in which you can see for yourself how 
fine the movement is, is to study it very carefully, 
and by degrees you will begin to discover how won- 
derfully the flow of movement is expressed. It may 
help you, if you put yourself into the same position, 
that is to say, make your own body represent this 
action. At first it may seem a little awkward, but 
presently, as you adjust your body to the actions, 
you will find that it seems easy and natural, for you 
will have secured a perfect poise. And, after all, 
it is the perfect poise in the action of this figure of 
Moderation that helps to make the movements so fine. 
Kow turn to the figure of Prudence, Here the 
action is much simpler. The body faces in the same 
direction that the legs extend. But it leans back a 
little. If you try the action yourself, you will find 
it difiicult, for the stretching out of the legs makes 
you wish to bring your body forward, so as to make 
the balance easy. But Raphael, knowing this, has 
made Prudence prop up her body, as it were, by 
leaning its weight on her left arm. Do you see how 
this forces up her left shoulder ? The representation 
of this and the drawing of the arm make us feel what 
a pressure of weight downwards the hand has to 
support. Artists, you will find, usually make some 
one part of the figure carry the chief weight. Some- 
times they may paint a standing figure in which 
the weight passes straight down through the figure 


Action and Composition of the Figure 

and is supported evenly by the two feet, like a col- 
umn bearing down on to its base. But, more often, 
they make one leg carry the chief weight, or, as in 
this figure, one arm. Then it becomes very interest- 
ing ; first, to study the part of chief muscular strain^ 
and secondly, to note how all the other parts of the 
action harmonise with it. For example, in this fig- 
ure of Prudence, although the arm sustains the chief 
pressure, a considerable amount must bear down 
through her trunk ^ on to the seat. But, if we com- 
pare her trunk with that of Moderation, I think we 
shall feel at once that the latter is supporting the 
greater weight. In fact, the point of greatest mus- 
cular action in the figure of Moderation is at the 
base of the trunk. 

But to return to Prudence. We have noted that 
the left shoulder is raised higher than the right. 
JSTow observe the inclination of the head as it leans 
gently forward on the neck to gaze into the mirror 
and the easy action of the arm that holds the light 
mirror. Equally easy and without effort is the 
action of the legs. In fact, except for the firm quiet 
pressure on the arm, the whole figure suggests a gra- 
cious repose, ^ot only is the expression of the face 
sweetly meditative, but the same feeling, as the ar- 
tists would say, of exquisite repose pervades the en- 
tire figure. You should learn to look for this in 
pictures. Do not be satisfied only with a beautiful 
face; but expect to find the beauty and the same 

' The body between the neck and the commencement of the 


A Guide to Pictures 

kind of beauty expressed in the action and movement 
of the figure. For it is in this expression of feeling 
that an artist shows his skill. 

Compare the feeling in the figure of Moderation. 
It is no less marked, though the feeling expressed 
is a different one. It is also quiet and gracious, 
but it does not suggest repose. Corresponding with 
the flexible, winding movement, the feeling is rather 
one of reaching out, as if in pleading or tender invi- 
tation. However, it is often very difficult to explain 
in words just what the feeling of a figure expresses ; 
and perhaps it is better not to try to do so. The 
main thing for you is to get the habit of feeling the 

I^ow let us study the feeling of Firmness. Like 
that of the central figure, it suggests repose; but a 
repose not so much of gracious meditation, as of 
strength and force. In a moment, if need be, this 
figure would rise to its feet, thrill with alertness and 
put forth its strength. Meanwhile, as it sits, the 
line of pressure is straight down through the cen- 
ter of the trunk, and it is the lower muscles of the 
back that are supporting the chief weight. One 
shoulder is raised, not however, because it has to 
bear any pressure as in the case of the central fig- 
ure, but simply because the trunk inclines a little 
toward the puma. Observe, though, that the head 
is held erect over the central line of the figure. If 
it were not, the feeling of firm strength in the figure 
would be lessened. On the other hand the face is 
turned to one side, in order that by its contrast of 


Action and Composition of the Figure 

direction the movement of the whole figure may be 
more effective. 

For, I wonder if yon have noticed that the move- 
ment in every case presents a chain of contrasts and 
repetitions. Start, for example, with the left foot 
of FirmnesSj and move your finger over the direc- 
tion of the figure ; first up the calf of the leg to the 
knee; then off toward the right to the hip; then 
leftward up the body, then again to the right at 
the slope of the shoulders; then slightly to the left 
up the neck, and lastly note the face turned to the 
right. You will have found that your finger has 
described a series of zig-zags. If you start with the 
other foot, the figure will equally present a series 
of zig-zags, though some differ from the former ones. 

Similarly, if you begin with the foot of Prudence, 
your eye travels up to the knee; then horizontally 
toward the lap; next up the slight backward slope 
of the body; then in the opposite direction, when 
you reach the neck and head. The contrasts in the 
figure of Moderation are so marked, that I am sure 
you can make the zig-zag for yourself. 

I have used the word zig-zag because I want you 
to feel how marked the contrasts are, and to realise 
that it is by means of these contrasts that an artist 
composes his figures. The zig-zag, however, in the 
actual figure has rounded angles ; it is indeed rather 
a series of alternate curves to right and left, some- 
what like the curves described by a skilful and grace- 
ful skater, cutting figures on the ice. And it is this 
series of curves that give the effect of rhythm as well 


A Guide to Pictures 

as harmony to the figures in this picture. For, as 
you may have seen for yourself, the principles on 
which an artist composes a single figure are the 
same as those he uses in the composition of several 
figures into one picture. He relies upon repetitions 
and contrasts to produce a balance, which because 
of its rhythm of parts shall ensure a harmonious 

The only difference in the case of the picture is 
that the composition is made up, not only of figures, 
but of the empty spaces of the background also. As 
artists would say, the composition is an arrangement 
of full and empty spaces; and its beauty depends 
upon the harmony and balance between them. In 
the Jurisprudence, for example, it is remarkable how 
the space filled by the figure of Prudence, corre- 
sponds in size and even in its wedge shape to the 
empty space formed by the upper and lower step of 
stonework. For the rest, the quantity of space oc- 
cupied by the other two figures seems to be about 
equal to the empty spaces around them, though the 
latter, instead of being solid masses are broken up 
and distributed. But you will notice, how large a 
stretch of empty space is left at the top of the 
lunette, so that the eye is drawn upward and the 
dignity of the whole decoration thereby elevated. 
I^ote also, what a quiet impressive spot the head of 
Prudence makes against the background of the sky. 
There is, as it were, nothing to disturb its gracious 
repose. This device of setting a figure against the 
background of the sky, Raphael may have learned 


Action and Composition of the Figure 

from one of his masters^ Perugino. At any rate, 
both employed it, with beautiful effect. 

You may often see in nature the beauty of this 
effect; when, for example, on the top of some rising 
ground a tree, or a figure, or a church spire, stands 
against the sky. If the object is motionless, it seems 
to become more impressive because of the vastness of 
the sky. Or, should the objects be children at play 
(I can remember a picture of this), then their sport 
seems to take on more joyousness, freedom, and 
buoyancy, from the vastness of the sky. 

And now, a short description of the way in which 
this decoration was painted. It is what is called 
" fresco," an Italian word that means " fresh.'* 
The name is used because the painting is done while 
the plaster of the wall is still fresh, that is to say, 
not " set " or dry. The following is the process. 
The wall was first covered, as in our houses to-day, 
with a coat of rough-cast plaster, which was allowed 
to dry thoroughly. In the meanwhile the artist had 
prepared full-sized drawings of his figures. As soon 
as he was ready, a thin coating of smooth-finish 
plaster was spread over such portion of the lunette 
as he could paint in a day. Upon this the drawing 
was placed and an assistant would go over all the 
lines with a blunt-pointed tool, pressing hard enough 
on the paper to leave a mark in the plaster under- 
neath. There, when the paper was removed, ap- 
peared the figure, enclosed in grooved lines. Then 
the artist set to work and laid in the color, using 
paint that was mixed, not with oil, but with water 


A Guide to Pictures 

to which some gluej substance was added. The 
plaster, jou remember, was still damp, but since it 
contained plenty of cement, dried or ^^ set " quickly, 
and as it dried, the paint dried with it, and became 
a part of the plaster. When it was done, the artist, 
if he wished, could add a few decisive strokes. The 
following day another portion of the lunette would 
be treated in the same manner and so on until the 
whole was painted. It is a method, you see, that 
left the artist no chance of fumbling over his work. 
He had to make up his mind beforehand exactly 
what he meant to do^ and to do it quickly. Hence, 
with an artist so skilled as Raphael, the work has 
the extra charm that belongs to what has been done 
easily and fluently. You know how much pleasanter 
it is to listen to an easy, fluent speaker than to one 
who hesitates and corrects himself continually. So, 
too, in a work of art, the feeling that it has grown 
easily under the artist's hand adds to our enjoyment 
of it. It seems to be a spontaneous expression of 




WE have seen in the previous chapters how 
Raphael built up composition from a sim- 
ple geometric plan, on the principles of repetition 
and contrast, rhythmically balanced. Other Italian 
artists worked upon the same lines, and with such 
skill and grandeur of invention that the Italian 
pictures, especially of the Sixteenth Century, are 
still considered the finest examples of this sort of 
composition. It is distinguished by being what we 
may call '^ formal," or " conventional." 

The figures are arranged, that is to say, not as 
you would be likely to see them in actual life, but 
according to a rule or formula or convention. The 
idea has been not to represent a real scene, but to 
display the figures and their surroundings in such 
a way as to produce an effect of beauty ; sometimes 
a simple one, more often one of great impressiveness 
or magnificent splendor. The figures and other ob- 
jects have been so arranged and so drawn as to fur- 
nish an orderly pattern of beauty and dignity. The 
subjects of the pictures might be taken from the 
Bible story or from the legends of ancient Greece, 
or be simply invented to set forth the pride that the 


A Guide to Pictures 

people took in their cities — the pomp and glory of 
Venice, for example. But, no matter what the sub- 
ject might be, the aim of the artist was first and 
foremost to paint a thing of beauty. And in this 
search for beauty he soon discovered how much de- 
pended upon the surroundings of his figures and the 
objects that he introduced. 

When he desired the simpler kind of beauty he 
set his figures in lovely landscape scenery with hills 
and trees and winding streams ; when he was bent on 
grander effects, he added architectural settings. For 
the architects of that day were erecting noble build- 
ings with columns and arches, vaulted roofs and 
domes ; partly in imitation of the remains of Roman 
architecture, but also designed in a fresh spirit of 
invention to fit the new purposes for which the 
buildings were required. Thus arose that vast 
temple of the Roman Church, St. Peter's. It is 
what is called a classic building; because its style 
is in many respects like that of the old classic Roman 
temples, which in their turn had represented a new 
use of the still older classic style of Greek archi- 

The painters, then, inspired by the work of the 
architects, discovered how much dignity they could 
give to their o^vn compositions by introducing archi- 
tectural features. Sometimes they would introduce 
columns, or a flight of steps or a balustrade, some- 
times a whole building; or represent the figures 
grouped in a street or square, surrounded by build- 
ings, or often inside a building, standing under a 


The Classic Landscape 

vaulted ceiling. These are only a few of the archi- 
tectural features, so freely used by the Italian paint- 
ers. Let us study their value to the composition. 

Some people who live in country homes are fond 
of flowers. They grow cluster-roses, honeysuckle, 
wistaria and other long-armed climbing plants over 
their verandahs. If they are fond of gardening and 
not satisfied merely with a lawn and a few shrubs, 
they will erect arclies and trellis-work on which 
vines may cling and cluster. In the first place, they 
know that these slender, straggling plants will thrive 
better, if they have some support ; they will not be so 
torn by the buffets of the wind, and their limbs and 
leaves and flowers will get more sunshine. Secondly, 
they will show to better advantage, because of the 
contrast of their winding, wreathing forms and ir- 
regular masses with the firm, strong, simple lines 
of the verandah or trellis-work. United they form a 
prettier composition, than would the vines and clus- 
ter-roses, if huddling in an unsupported tangle. 

The principle is the same in the composition of a 
picture, where the vines are represented by the ac- 
tion of the figures. To their irregular masses of 
drapery and undulating lines of limbs the architec- 
ture presents at once the contrast and support of de- 
cided lines and clearly defined masses. And since 
the classic style of architecture, which was used, is 
so noble, it added nobility to the composition. Even 
the penny photographs of the Italian pictures will 
prove to you that this is so. Study them and find 
this out for yourselves. 


A Guide to Pictures 

' ^ow, the example of the Italians, in this respect, 
was followed by other nations, especially the French. 
The latter continue to this day the painting of beau- 
tiful pictures in which the figures are combined with 
landscape and architecture. And our own Amer- 
ican artists are doing the same thing, as you can see 
if you have a chance of visiting the Library of Con- 
gress, at Washington, or any other of the public 
buildings throughout this country, in which the walls 
have been decorated with mural paintings.^ 

So far we have been speaking of the use of archi- 
tecture to support the figures. In time, however, 
artists found a new use for it. They employed it 
to support the landscape; which brings us to a talk 
about* what is called the " Classic Landscape." 

Nowadays, when so many artists paint nothing 
else but landscape pictures, it may seem strange that 
the Italians of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Cen- 
turies used landscape only as a support for the fig- 
ures. It was not because they were blind to the beau- 
tiful scenery of their own country, for, when they 
did introduce it into their pictures, they represented 
it in a very lovely way. But always as a back- 
ground to the figures, which you are made to feel 
are the principal features of the picture. The 
reason is that the public for whom they painted de- 
manded figure subjects. The Church required pic- 
tures that would bring home to the hearts of the 
people who could not read the beauty of the Bible 

» Mural — (Latin murus, a wall), having to do with a wall; in 
this case a decoration on a wall. 





U - 





The Classic Landscape 

Story ; rich men and women wished to decorate their 
palaces with scenes from the old Greek legends; 
while cities adorned their public buildings with 
allegorical subjects in which the pride they took in 
their own municipal life was set forth in figures, 
personifying the character of its greatness. More- 
over, those were stirring times in which the rivalry 
between the cities and between the noble families led 
to constant wars and plottings. Men, beginning as 
nobodies, rose rapidly to power. Xot, as they do 
to-day in our country, by using their brains and 
energy in the peaceful pursuits of industry and trade 
and learning; but through brute force, guided by 
brains that schemed to win by fraud and violence. 
So it was man that, as we say, cut the chief figure 
in these times; man's power and woman's beauty. 
Mankind was so interested in itself that it spared 
little thought for the beauty of nature. It is true 
that architects built noble houses on sites command- 
ing beautiful views and laid out the gardens with 
fountains, trees and flowers. Even this however, was 
for the glorification of some man or woman. But 
the love of nature which leads artists to paint land- 
scapes and the public to value such pictures is a dif- 
ferent thing. In the love of nature man forgets 
himself; he is absorbed in the beauty of the natural 
world outside himself; he is fond of nature for its 
own sake. 

It was not until the Seventeenth Century that ar- 
tists began to study and paint the landscape in this 
spirit. When they did so, the landscape took the 


A Guide to Pictures 

first place in their pictures, and the figures, if any 
were introduced, became the unimportant features, 
kept small and put in merely to enliven the scene. 
By this time landscape painting, as a subject distinct 
in itself, branched out into two directions — the 
naturalistic and the formal. The naturalistic was 
practised by the Dutch artists, who painted the out 
of door life and appearance of Holland so truth- 
fully, that to-day when we look at their pictures we 
can see the meadows and streams, the mills and the 
farms, exactly as they were three hundred years ago. 
But the subject of natural landscape we will study 
later on. 

The other kind of landscape I have called formal 
because, instead of being drawn directly from na- 
ture, it was made up, like the Italian figure pictures, 
according to a rule or formula or convention. Just 
as in those pictures the figures were represented as 
grander and more beautiful than people usually are 
in real life, and were arranged for the purpose of 
a handsome composition in attitudes that people do 
not usually assume, so with the formal landscapes. 
The artists tried to make them more grand and im- 
posing than ordinary nature, and composed them ac- 
cording to an artificial plan. They did not in their 
picture represent any real scene in nature, but built 
up a number of natural details into a composition, 
constructed on a geometric plan. And especially 
they introduced details of classic architecture; so 
that these formal designs are often called classic 


The Classic Landscape 

If you turn to the illustration you will see at 
once that the artist has not represented the natural 
landscape. The very title, Dido Building Car- 
thage, shows the classic influence. The subject is 
taken from Virgil's ^neid, Book I, line 420. 
Turner, the great English artist, who in 1815 
painted this picture, had never seen Carthage; nor 
had he ever seen any spot on earth like the one rep- 
resented here. What he had seen was the work of 
Claude Terrain, a French artist of the Seventeenth 
Century, who lived in Italy and invented this kind 
of landscape. Turner himself preferred to paint the 
natural landscape; but, since the people of his own 
day admired the classic landscape of Claude and his 
followers, he wished to prove that he also could paint 
like Claude, if he chose; and as well as the French 
artist. Therefore, when he died, he left this picture 
and another classic landscape, The Sun rising in 
a Mist to the National Gallery, on condition that 
they should be hung alongside of two by Claude Lor- 
rain. So, while studying this picture we are really 
studying the principles on which Claude built up the 
classic landscape, and on which his followers worked 
for nearly two hundred years, until the love of nature 
won out and the naturalistic landscape took its place. 

The geometric plan of this picture is very simple. 
You can discover it by joining the upper and lower 
opposite corners by two diagonal lines that cut each 
other in the center. This produces four triangles; 
of which the top is given to the sky, the bottom to 
the water^ and the two sides to the land and build- 


A Guide to Pictures 

ings and trees. Skj and water occupy more space 
than the other two parts; but since the latter are 
filled with details of bold design, they attract extra 
attention, so that the balance between the full and 
empty spaces is kept true. 

The balance is a harmonious one. You will per- 
haps realise better what this means if you think for 
a moment of a balance that is not harmonious; for 
instance of a pair of hanging scales, in one pan of 
which there is a flat round one pound weight, exactly 
balancing a pound of candy in the other pan. We 
should not call this a harmonious balance. If we 
examine why it is not, it will help us to understand 
the meaning of harmony in composition. The reason 
is that there is no relation between the box of candy 
and the one pound weight, except that each weighs 
the same. On the other hand, in the picture every 
detail has some relation to the other details, and 
all are related to the whole. The whole, in fact, is 
a woven mass of contrasts and repetitions, in exact 
relation; very much as a composition of music is 
made up of exactly related contrasts and repetitions 
of sound notes. Alter one of these and there Avill 
be a discord, unless some other notes are altered to 
restore the harmony. Similarly if the artist had al- 
tered the shape of one of the details in his picture, 
or its color, or its lightness or darkness, there would 
have been a discord in the effect of his picture ; it 
would no longer present the appearance of perfect 
oneness. He would have to alter some other parts 
to restore the harmony. 


The Classic Landscape 

In studying the picture to try and discover how 
the effect of harmony is produced we find ourselves 
studying the contrasts and repetitions of which it is 
composed. And, first the contrasts. One big one 
is the contrast of the architecture with everything 
else in the picture — the contrast of these quiet 
stately masses, which seem so firm and strong, com- 
pared with the shimmering surface of the water and 
the tremulous mistiness of the sky ; the contrast also 
of their decided lines with the irregular spotting of 
the figures, and with the irregular masses of the 
trees and foliage. The big tree, although it is mo- 
tionless in the quiet air, seems as if a breeze would 
stir it ; the water has ripples of motion ; some of the 
figures appear to be moving, while others are only 
still for the moment, and the sky — it is palpitating 
with the actual stir of the atmosphere, as the upper 
air gradually cools and draws up the warmer air 
from below, and this warmer air cools into misti- 
ness. But the buildings stand immovable and solid. 
While all around them either moves or could move, 
they seem to suggest the force and permanence of 
what does not change. Or perhaps we may feel that 
grand as the buildings are, stately and magnificent, 
yet the sky is lovelier, for the buildings are limited 
to their one size and shape, while the sky seems a 
part of that which has no limits or boundaries. It 
draws off our imagination into the mystery of dis- 
tance and of the unknown. So the impressions which 
the contrast of the architecture arouses are not only 
such as the eye can see, but such also as the imagi- 


A Guide to Pictures 

nation can feel. This, no doubt, is one of the secrets 
of the pleasure which so many people have found 
and still find in classic landscapes. 

And now for another series of contrasts : those sup- 
plied hj the lights and darks. In the original pic- 
ture these contrasts would depend partly on the color 
of the various objects; but here, in the black and 
white reproduction, we may think of the pattern 
simply as one of very dark spots and very light ones, 
threaded together by others of varying depths of 
greyness. Again, what an important part the sky 
plays ! It is a flood of light, against which every- 
thing forms a silhouette,^ more or less dark, re- 
lieved by spots and streaks of light. The water, but 
for the pathway of reflection, is shrouded in shadow. 
Shadow, too, is wrapping itself round the tall build- 
ing on the left, and slumbers drowsily among the 
trees on the opposite hill slopes. The artist, you 
will notice, has varied the distribution of shadows. 
On the left the gradation from very dark to very 
light is continuous. It is as if the first building 
struck a loud strong note, and the sound gradually 
diminished toward the distance. On the right, how- 
ever, the foreground is lighter, and the dark gradu- 
ally increases, swelling up, as they say in music, in 
a crescendo effect and then passing in a diminuendo 
far off into the distance. In fact, on both sides of 

* In 1759 a M. de Silhouette was minister of finance, and he 
was so economical that the French used his name as a nickname 
for cheap things, among others for the profile portraits cut out 
of black paper, which were then popular. In time, the word 
came to be used for any dark mass seen against a light one. 



The Classic Landscape 

the picture the arrangement of dark and light is 
rhythmical. I have only touched upon the broad 
general plan of contrasted darks and lights, and 
must leave you to study for yourselves the intricate 
and subtle effects with which the picture abounds; 
for example, the fine threads and little dots of light 
and dark that form a tangle on the left bank; or, 
on the right, the mass of leafage in half shadow 
against which the trunk of the tree shows very dark. 
You know the old proverb about leading a horse to 
the water. I can draw your attention to these 
things, but I can not make you feel their beauty. 
I think, however, I can promise you, that, if you are 
sufficiently interested in what we are talking about 
to really study this picture, to explore carefully the 
lighter parts and peer into the shadows to see what 
lurks within them, its beauty will make itself known 
to you. 

As I myself am examining a black and white 
reproduction of this picture, that lies before me 
while I write these lines, there is music coming from 
the next room. It has stopped, and I wish it would 
begin again; for music seems to fit in with the im- 
pressions that this picture stirs in my imagination. 
Nor is this merely a fanciful idea. Music is one 
art and painting is another. They are different, it 
is true, but yet are sisters with much in com- 
mon. And why not? For they come from the 
same parents — the hand and the mind of man. And 
through the harmony of the light and dark of which 
this picture is composed there floats, it seems to me, 


A Guide to Pictures 

the fancy of a melody. I think it comes from out 
the endless distance of that sky ; gently floating tow- 
ard us, and crooning over the objects in the fore- 
ground, as a mother murmurs a lullaby over her 
baby while it falls asleep. But it is not altogether 
crooning, for see that tree^s dark, round mass of 
tone ! How it thumps itself into our notice, while 
its force spreads up the hill, and then leaps across 
the water, and stirs with a different kind of energy 
in the dark building on the left. There is nothing 
of the feebleness and the helplessness of a baby in 
this picture. It suggests rather, big and mighty 
effort, growing toward the time of rest. It is not 
the music of a lullaby I seem to hear, but the even- 
ing hymn of sturdy workers as they cease for a little 
from their toil. 



TK the preceding chapters we have been studying 
-'• formal, or conventional, composition. We have 
seen how the artists arrange their groups of figures 
and the position and gestures of each figure accord- 
ing to a rule or formula or convention, the basis of 
which is a geometric plan, on which they build up 
a balance of repetitions and contrasts. And we have 
noted that these formal compositions are artificial 
arrangements; that the figures are not grouped as 
you might expect them to be in real life, nor in 
positions that men and women usually assume. And 
these formal compositions we have seen were also 
called, classic, the last example being the classic 
landscape in which nature has been made to look 
more grand by the addition of features of classic 

We reach now another principle of composition. 
It is the arrangement adopted by the artist, whose 
motive is to make his picture represent nature nat- 
urally; so I call it naturalistic composition. But, 
as we have noted before, the artist is not satisfied 
merely to represent nature; he wishes in the first 
place to make his picture a thing of beauty. Nature 


A Guide to Pictures 

is not always beautiful; so he selects from nature 
and arranges his subject in such a way, that we shall 
not only recognise how true the picture is to nature, 
but feel also how beautiful it is as a work of art. 
Its beauty, you see, is founded, not upon a formal 
plan, but on its truth to nature. 

Here for example, is The Sower by the French 
artist, Jean Francois Millet. If we have ever seen a 
man scattering grain, we recognise at once the pic- 
ture's truth to life. But Millet's intention was not 
only to make us know what the man is doing, but 
to create an impression on our minds that shall make 
us feel a sense of beauty, through the way in which 
the picture represents the incident. As a young 
man. Millet had studied the examples of Greek and 
Roman sculpture in the Museum of the Louvre in 
Paris, and learnt through them the classic principles 
of composition — the balance obtained by rhythmical 
repetition and contrast. And these principles, as we 
shall see presently, are applied to this figure of The 
Sower, I hope to show you that this is the secret 
of the picture's beauty. Although the action of the 
figure inside the shabby clothes is quite natural, the 
movement is rhythmical. In fact it represents a 
mixture of the classical and the naturalistic motive. 

Firstly, the naturalistic. We know at a glance 
what the man is doing. The forms in the picture, 
the colors, the light and shade, make an impression 
on the eye which is immediately telegraphed to one 
of the centers of the brain. The result is that we 
know the picture represents a man in a field sowing 


^Naturalistic Composition 

grain, while from the color and light in the sky, and 
the shadows creeping over the field, we know that 
it is twilight. 

This direct thought stirs ns to further thinking; 
for we recall that laborers start for their work in 
early morning, so this one has probably been toiling 
all through the day. But we notice that his actions 
are still vigorous, he should be tired, yet he is work- 
ing as sturdily as at any time during the day; per- 
haps with even more energy, in order that he may 
finish sowing the field before the darkness comes. 
In fact, the arrangement of forms, colors, and light 
and shade has made a strong impression on the 
thinking part of the brain, stirring us not only to 
observe, but to draw conclusions. And this, of 
course, is what Millet meant that it should do. 

But this was not all that he intended. Most peo- 
ple of his day must have thought it was ; for nearly 
all the critics, or persons who are supposed to be 
able to judge of the value of a picture, and nearly 
all the connoisseurs, who are supposed to be able to 
appreciate its beauty, turned up their noses and 
shrugged their shoulders. " This is horrible ! '' they 
exclaimed. " A common laborer in his dirty clothes, 
doing his miserable work. Ugh ! how vulgar ! This 
is not art; for art should be concerned with beauty. 
Why does not the fellow paint some beautiful girl 
in beautiful draperies ? Phew ! Take the picture 
away, it smells of the farm." 

You see they confined their criticisms and appre- 
ciation to what the picture was about — its subject; 


, A Guide to Pictures 

and "because they did not like the subject, they con- 
demned the picture. They got no further than 
hnoiuing and thinking, they did not permit them- 
selves to feel. But it was on their feelings also that 
Millet wished to make an impression. Through the 
arrangement of line, form, color, and light and shade 
he sought to stir that other part of the brain to 
which messages are telegraphed by the senses, with 
a result that we are made to feel. Let us analyse 
the composition; and see how it illustrates the prin- 
ciple that we have been discussing of balance, and 
rhythmic repetition, and contrast. 

We will begin with the latter, l^ote, then, how 
the sloping line of the field cuts across the picture. 
This diagonal line is contrasted with the perpen- 
dicular sides of the picture, and with the upright 
direction of the figure of the man. It forms, how- 
ever, another contrast; it divides the light from the 
dark. The sun has gone down behind the slope; so 
that, while the sky is still luminous with a lovely 
glow, the ground is in shadow, dreary and heavy 
looking. So, too, the figure of the man. The light 
is at his back^ so that what we see of him is shrouded 
in gloom. Against the gloom of the ground his fig- 
ure shows comparatively indistinctly, but the upper 
part stands very sharp against the light. There is 
a strong contrast between its heaviness and gloom 
and the lovely radiance of the waning light; while 
down below the figure looms out of the gloom and 
heaviness, as if it were a part of them that had 
gathered into definite shape. Yes, though his head 


Naturalistic Composition 

may stand against the sky, the man is part of the 

Eight away, is there nothing in this to make us 
feel? Millet, at any rate, had often felt the poig- 
nancy of contrast, in his own life and in the lives 
of others. He had known what it was to see his 
wife and children short of food, to have his own 
stomach empty, while his mind was full of beautiful 
ideas, and his cottage full of pictures, that some day 
men would buy, but not yet. He had seen little 
bright faced children standing at the open grave 
of the father or the mother; the happy young bride 
at the altar, and among the congregation the young 
widow; and evening after evening, as the darkness 
fell, the lonely figures in the field, toiling out their 
short lives, whilst behind them spread the everlasting 
beauty of the sunset, and a few miles off in Paris, 
where he came from, the lights were gleaming and 
people were making ready for pleasure, though 
there too, as he knew from his own experience, peo- 
ple starved. Yes, it is through experience that we 
learn to feel deeply, and it is to experience that the 
contrast of this picture appeals. 

When we recognise that by this contrast of light 
and darkness. Millet sought to express the dreary 
routine, day in day out, early and late, of the 
peasant's lot in a world where nature is so beautiful, 
and there can be so much beauty in life, we may 
imagine to ourselves what would be the effect of 
raising or lowering the diagonal line. To have given 
more lighted space, would have made the figure stand 


A Guide to Pictures 

out too prominently so that it would have dominated 
the scene, and the scene itself would have seemed 
too spacious. Velasquez, in his equestrian portraits, 
kept the horizon line low, so that Philip IV , for ex- 
ample, or his minister, Olivarez, is made to appear 
a very important person in a very large world. But 
Millet wished us to feel the lowliness of the peasant, 
bound close to the earth in very narrow surround- 
ings. Again, to have raised the horizon line, would 
have destroyed the balance between light and dark- 
ness, which now is absolutely true. This balance 
suggests a feeling of repose; shall I say of acquies- 
cence in the necessity of the contrast ? For Millet 
did not consider himself a reformer whose work is 
to set things right and to do away with contrasts; 
but an artist, whose aim was to harmonise the con- 
trasts and to find some balance between the lights 
and darks of life ; just as Stevenson out of his weak- 
ness and strength made his life a beautiful one. 

And now let us study the lines of the figure. In 
the first place you wdll agree that they enclose a form 
which is unmistakably that of a man sowing grain. 
It was necessary for Millet to arrange the lines, in 
some way that should convey this impression. But 
there are many other ways in which they might have 
been arranged, so as to obtain this result. For in 
the act of sowing a man takes many positions and 
any one of these would have done, if all the artist 
had desired was to make us hnow that the man was 
sowing. But Millet wished to do more. 

As a boy he toiled in his father's fields, so he had 


The Sower. J. F. MiUet. 


Naturalistic Composition 

a fellow-feeling for the peasants ; and as he watched 
them, day after day laboring so faithfully, he found 
a big idea in their work. It was something like 
this — work is necessary, and to do our own share of 
it as well as we can is the big thing for each of us. 
And the oldest work of all and the most necessary 
is the growing of the wheat. To-day the seed is laid 
in rows by machine-drills; but in Millet's time it 
was scattered by hand, just as it had been since man 
began to sow. This sower, then, that he watched 
was a descendant of a long line of sowers, stretching 
back to the beginning of civilisation ; and still in the 
fields of Barbizon he was doing his humble share 
of the world's necessary work. Millet felt the big- 
ness of this idea; and in his imagination the man 
was no longer Jacques or Jean — a sower ; he became 
*^ The Sower," a type — a big heroic type. Then, as 
Millet felt him to be, so he set to work to paint him, 
choosing such lines as would convey this big feeling 
to us. Observe, first, the balance of the figure : how 
the weight of the body is planted almost equally on 
both feet. If you try to put yourself in the position, 
you will find that you can raise neither foot with- 
out moving the body. If you wish to raise the back 
foot, you must move the body forward till the weight 
is on the right foot ; or, if you would raise this latter, 
you must move the body back till the weight is over 
the left foot. The center of gravity or of mass runs 
down through the body and between the legs. Now 
sway your body backward and forward a few times, 
and then bring forward the left leg in front of the 


A Guide to Pictures 

right, so that the position of the feet is reversed. 
I^ow sway again forward and backward. I ask you 
to do this that you may feel how freely the body 
moves in this position. And I ask you to stride, 
that you may feel that the position in the picture 
is only a momentary one, leading on to a natural 
advance. For this perfect poise of the body on the 
feet is not a stationary one, that in time will seem 
stiff, but part of a moving one, that has the freedom 
and the naturalness of life. And the movement is 
a swift one. We can feel it is so from the length of 
the stride; for it is only when you are moving 
quickly, that you can take long strides, and still pre- 
serve the balanced, rhythmic swing of the body. 

We have spoken of the poise of the body on the 
legs; now let us note the action of the right arm. 
The action, I need hardly say, begins with taking 
a handful of grain from the bag; then the arm is 
swung back to the right to its full extent, and then 
again brought back to the bag. Between these two 
points — that of the bag and that of the full extent — 
the arm is poised in motion, just as the action of the 
body was poised between the backward and forward 
motion of the legs. We can feel that the arm is 
moving, and, at this instant it is moving backward, 
for our own experience when we walk and swing 
our arms naturally is that each arm goes back as 
the leg on that side goes forward. The man's arm 
will reach its furthest point backward when he brings 
his full weight on the right foot. In a word, the 
poise of the arm and the poise of the leg correspond. 


Naturalistic Composition 

They present an example of repetition of balance. 
It is enforced, you will observe, in the composition 
by the arm being made parallel to the direction of 
the backward leg. This is another instance of repe- 
tition; and there are still others: the repetitions of 
the waist line, the shoulders, and the hat brim; of 
the bandage on the left leg, the line from the shoul- 
der through the thigh, the apron, hanging over the 
arm, and of the echo, as it were, of these, in the tail 
of the distant ox and the arm of the driver. These 
repetitions, and others that you may discover for 
yourself, help to bind the composition together and 
also to make it rhythmic. 

And now for contrast, we have noted the big one 
made by the diagonal line, dividing the composition 
into light and dark. Let us note those appearing in 
the figure. First there is the big contrast of the 
figure's own diagonal line from the shoulders down 
through the right leg. It is contrasted most forcibly 
with the sides of the picture, the horizon line, and 
the direction of the right arm and the left leg. The 
latter are practically at right angles to the figure — 
strongest of all contrasts of line. It is to all these 
vigorous contrasts that the energy and assertion of 
the figure are mainly due. But there are other con- 
trasts in the figure. Do you notice that the swing 
of the arm brings the trunk of the body, or the torso, 
as it is called, along with it? Swing your own arm 
and you will find your torso following its direction. 
If the man's arm were to reach its full extension, 
his left shoulder would appear and his torso would 


A Guide to Pictures 

front us nearly full. If his hand should reach the 
bag, the right shoulder would come forward until 
the torso would be seen almost in profile. However, 
neither of these extremes is presented. The swing 
of the torso is poised between the two. But do you 
observe that the swing of the torso and arms is 
across the path of direction of the swing of the legs ? 
While they swing forward and backward, the arms 
and torso swing alternately from right to left and 
left to right. 

Imitate this action with your own body, step for- 
ward briskly with a swinging stride and at the same 
time swing your arms and torso. If you feel the 
exhilaration of the action as I think you will, you 
will realise that it is the wonderful way in which 
Millet has suggested this contrast of the swing, that 
makes the action of the figure so stirring. By the 
contrast of its lines, it expresses energy; by the 
contrast of swing, so free, so rhythmic, so vigorous, 
it lifts us to enthusiasm. 

But finally observe the position of the head and 
the direction of its gaze. While below it the torso 
and arms swing from side to side, the head is fixed, 
leaning a little forward in the direction of the on- 
ward movement, its eyes firmly set on what is ahead. 
Within the head is the brain which directs all the 
action of the figure. But the face is shadowed over, 
and through the shadow the features appear coarse 
and heavy. We feel that the brain, though prompt- 
ing the man to do his work to the utmost, is after 
all a dull brain, in pitiful contrast to the vigor of 


Naturalistic Composition 

the bodj. Heroic though the figure is in the gran- 
deur of its free, swift movement, as grand, if you 
will take my word for it, as a Greek statue, yet it 
is but that of a humble peasant, unconscious that 
he is doing aught but that which he has to do. 

There you have the idea as it presented itself to 
the imagination of Millet! 

" The Sower '' is a striking illustration of the 
point with which I started this book ; that the beauty 
of a picture does not depend upon the subject, but 
upon the way it is represented. 




TN The Sower, by Millet, we found that, though 
-■' the composition was naturalistic, it was based 
upon the classic principle of rhythm of line. We 
shall not discover this principle in the present pic- 
ture of a Young Woman Opening a Window. The 
arrangement of the figure and its surroundings is 
simply natural. 

The picture is by Johannes Yermeer ^ of Delft, 
so called because this town in Holland was his birth- 
place and the scene of his life's work. Bom in 1632, 
he is one of those famous Dutch artists of the Seven- 
teenth Century, of whom I have already spoken. 
We were talking of landscape painting and men- 
tioned that in this century the art branched out in 
two directions. Landscape up to that time having 
been used as a background for figures, became then 
an independent art, cultivated for its own sake ; and 
the artists treated it in two ways. On the one hand, 
some applied the principles of geometric composition 
to an artificial building up of bits of nature into 
what is called the formal, or classic landscape ; while 
other painters represented the natural landscape 

1 Pronounced Yo-hann-es Fair-mair. 

Naturalistic Composition 

naturally. These latter were the Dutchmen, who 
treated figures also in the same realistic spirit. That 
is to say, whether they painted portraits or figure 
pictures or landscapes, their aim was to represent 
the actual subject as they really saw it. They did 
not substitute an artificial arrangement for the nat- 
ural appearance of people and things; nor did they 
try to obtain beauty by altering and improving upon 
nature. Their motive or purpose was to render the 
beauty that is actually in nature. So, for the most 
part, they chose subjects of familiar every day life. 

This picture, for example, represents simply a 
glimpse of home life, of a Dutch girl in well-to-do 
circumstances. Perhaps the artist intended to make 
a portrait of her ; probably his intention was only to 
paint a genre picture, that is to say, (an incident of 
every day -life, i !Not so much, however, for the sake 
of representing the incident, as of making it con- 
tribute to a subject of abstract beauty. How he has 
done this I hope we shall see presently. Meanwhile, 
I want you to grasp the distinction between simply 
representing an incident, as you or I might have 
seen it, if we had been present, and Vermeer's mo- 
tive of using the incident as a peg on which to hang 
some beauty of light and color and texture. I mean, 
it was the beauty of light and color and texture that 
made him pleased to paint this picture; and prob- 
ably he would have been just as pleased if some 
other girl had been standing there, or some other 
objects had been spread upon the table. 

Perhaps a familiar example will illustrate this 


A Guide to Pictures 

distinction. Two people start off for an afternoon's 
walk. One sets out because he wishes to call upon 
a friend who lives on the other side of the wood. 
To pay this call is the object of his walk; for the 
friend is building a new house. As he walks along 
he is busy wondering how far it is advanced, 
whether the plasterers have finished their work; and 
as he returns home he is thinking about the house 
he has seen and how he himself, when he builds a 
house of his own, will plan it differently. In fact, 
the incident of his friend's being engaged in build- 
ing is what interests him, and has been throughout 
the afternoon the motive of his walk. His compan- 
ion, on the other hand, agrees to go along with him, 
not so much because he is interested in the house, 
although he is to some extent, but mostly because 
he loves a walk. He enjoys the exhilaration of the 
exercise ; he is fond of the wood through which they 
have to pass. He will have a chance to hunt for 
the first signs of spring — ^the early skunk-cabbage, 
the shy peep of the violet through the dead leaves 
underfoot, the rose blush of the maples overhead, the 
piping and flicker of the first bird-arrivals and so 
on. The real motive of his walk is the joy of ex- 
ercise and of the beauties met with on the way. 
Visiting the house was but an excuse. 

There is the same distinction among painters. To 
some the representation of the incident is the main 
thing ; to others, the rendering of the beauties which 
it involves. Vermeer, like the other Dutch artists, 
of the Seventeenth Century, belonged to the latter 


Young Woman Opening a Window. Johannes Vermeer. 

(Pi'operfy of The MetroYKtlitan Museum of Art.) 

^Naturalistic Composition 

class. Since, however, his subject is the peg on 
which he hangs his arrangement of light and color, 
let us begin by examining it. 

A young woman is standing between a table and 
a window. With one hand she opens the casement 
while the other grasps the handle of a brass pitcher 
that stands in an ewer of the same material. Per- 
haps she is going to water some flowers that are out- 
side on the window sill. Her costume consists of a 
dark blue skirt, buff-colored bodice, and a broad 
collar and hood-like cap of thin white linen. The 
table is covered with an oriental cloth, on which 
is a yellow jewel case, while over the blue chair lies 
a cloak of lighter blue. On the gray wall hangs 
a map. This and the table cloth may remind us, 
that the Dutch of that period, although they were 
fighting for their political liberty against Spain, 
found means to build ships and carry on trade across 
the sea with far distant countries. Possibly the girl 
was the daughter of some sea-captain or prosperous 

Anyhow the picture, beside being a beautiful 
painting, is very interesting to us to-day as an illus- 
tration of the domestic life of a Dutch girl of some 
two hundred and fifty years ago. And the same in- 
terest belongs to all the old genre pictures. They 
make the past still alive to our eyes; just as the 
genre pictures painted to-day will show some future 
generation how we lived. But this, I repeat, was 
not Vermeer's first thought. On the other hand, I 
do not wish you to think that he was not himself 


A Guide to Pictures 

interested in the subject of his picture. He was, I 
am sure; but in another way. He, no doubt, ar- 
ranged the figure with great care and carefully se- 
lected and grouped the surrounding objects. But, 
in placing the girl, he did not try to get the grace- 
ful lines that Raphael, for example, would have 
imagined. Vermeer's desire was to keep the pose 
and gesture natural. In this he was simply follow- 
ing the general motive of the artists of his country 
and of that time. But his o^vn particular motive in 
representing the girl in the act of opening the win- 
dow was that the clear outside light might stream 
in at the back of her figure and blend with the dim- 
mer light of the interior. 

I said that we would study the kind of beauty 
that this picture possesses; and it is to be found 
in the rendering of the light. The Italians, busy 
with their grand classic compositions, would not 
have thought of this. Their motive was the beauty 
of form, arrayed in beautiful draperies, and so ar- 
ranged that the figures should produce beautiful 
patterns of line and form. To make a motive of the 
beauty of natural light was a discovery of the Dutch. 

They were artists, you see, and therefore in love 
with beauty. But they confined themselves, almost 
entirely, to real subjects of every day life, and ac- 
cordingly had to find out the beauty that may be in 
these familiar things. And it was not long before 
they learned how much the beauty of things depends 
upon the light in which they are seen. 

Before we go any further in our study of the 


IN'aturalistic Composition 

picture, let us see if we cannot be sure of this from 
our oAvn experience. Whether you live in a city or 
in the country, how differently you feel when you 
start out in the morning, according as the day is 
fine or not. Under a bright sky everything takes 
on a cheerfulness that is communicated to our own 
spirit. Let the sky become downcast and the appear- 
ance of objects becomes dulled. Often too, some 
familiar object that we have passed time and time 
again without particular notice, suddenly attracts us. 
How beautiful ! we exclaim. If we try to discover the 
reason of the beauty, we shall find very likely, that 
it is due to some effect of light. It need not be a 
bright light, on the contrary, it may be a soft light, 
such as wraps itself around objects like a gauzy 
veil, when the sky is thick with vapor. Do you 
remember that line of Tennyson's — " Waves of light 
went over the wheat " ? He had been watching a field 
of wheat, spread out smoothly like a pale golden 
carpet in the yellow sunshine. Suddenly, a soft 
breeze passes over it, and as the stems bend their 
heavy heads of grain, and recover themselves, ripples 
of light travel across the field. The poet notes it in 
his memory, for a future poem. So, if we use our 
eyes, we may note countless examples of the beauty 
which is added to the simplest things by light. In 
fact, the changing effect of light will correspond to 
the changing expressions that pass over the human 

The Dutch artists, as soon as they became really 
interested in the nature and life around them, 


A Guide to Pictures 

quickly recognised this fact, and made it the chief 
motive of their pictures. They were no longer satis- 
fied with mere realism; that is to say, to make the 
figure and the objects around it look as real in the 
pictures as they did in actual reality. They sought 
to render the expression of which these objects were 
capable, under the influence of light. If you do not 
understand this I think you will, if you place a 
bunch of flowers in some dark corner of the room, 
look at it a little while, and then move it to the 
window. ]N^ow, as the light falls upon the flowers 
and shines through the petals, the whole bunch is 
transfigured. It has taken on a new appearance of 
beauty. Like a face that has suddenly lighted up 
with an expression of happiness, the flowers seem 
alive with radiance. They too, have their expres- 
sion and it will change with the changing of light. 
For look at them again toward evening, when the 
light is low, and their faces, not less beautiful, will 
show a quite different expression. 

Now the light which streamed in at that window 
in Delft, when Vermeer painted this picture, was 
a very cool, pure light; one would say, from seeing 
the original picture, a morning light in Spring, it 
is so pure and fresh and fragrant. Yes, one can even 
feel the fragrance of its freshness, so exquisitely has 
the artist suggested to us the impression of the 
lighted air that steals into the room, filling it with 
purity. See, how it bathes the wall; even the bare 
gray becomes radiant; how it gleams on the girl's 
shoulder, and filters through her cap, making it in 


^naturalistic Composition 

parts transparent, so that one sees the background 
color through it. jSTote also, how it roams among the 
objects in the room, caressing the under part of the 
girl's right arm, bringing out the softness and plump- 
ness of her left wrist ; splashing the ewer and touch- 
ing the pitcher, the table cloth, and other details 
with glints of sparkle, like notes of gladness in a 
melody of tender freshness. 

Even in the reproduction one can feel the fresh- 
ness that pervades the room, and the delicate quality 
of the lighted atmosphere that envelopes the figures 
and fills every part of the scene. I mean, that not 
only is this effect of light visible to our eyes, but it 
also stirs in us a sentiment or feeling of gladness 
and refreshment. Still more will the original, if you 
have a chance of seeing it in the Metropolitan 
Museum, 'New York, where, though a very small 
picture, it is one of the gems of the collection. For 
there you will feel also the effect of the color, yel- 
low, gray, and various hues of blue. They are all 
cool colors, the blues especially, and very pure in 
hue, which increases the sensation of freshness. 

A moment ago I spoke of the picture as being like 
a melody. It will suggest to some imaginations the 
blitheness of a spring-song. The fact that a painting 
may sometimes seem to have the tunefulness or har- 
mony of music I have already mentioned in a pre- 
vious chapter. The reason is that painting and 
music, although different arts, have certain elements 
in common. Later on, when we shall speak of color, 
I shall try to suggest to you the correspondence be- 


A Guide to Pictures 

tween sound notes in music and color notes in paint- 
ing. But for the present I will remind you of an ele- 
ment, common to both arts, of which we have already 
spoken — rhythm. In Eaphael's Jurisprudence^ I 
pointed out to you the rhythm of movement in the 
figures. It flows through the forms of the figures 
in rippling, wave-like lines of direction. But noth- 
ing of that sort is apparent in Vermeer's picture. 
There are repetitions and contrasts in the arrange- 
ment of the full and empty spaces; but they rep- 
resent rather a pattern of spots ; we are not conscious 
of any rhythm of line. Then, in what does the 
rhythm consist? 

If you think of that line of Tennyson's — " Waves 
of light went over the wheat," you may perhaps dis- 
cover for yourselves the kind of rhythm in this pic- 
ture. To give you time to think it out, before I tell 
you, let me ask you, if you have noticed that in a 
flower-bed in the garden a number of blossoms of 
different colors will " dwell together in unity," but 
if you pick some of these and bring them indoors 
and begin to arrange them in a vase, the colors will 
seem to clash. That they do not appear to clash in 
the flower bed is because the out-of-door light envel- 
opes everything, soothes the violence of the colors 
and brings them all into an appearance of harmony. 
Similarly in this picture, the light streaming through 
the window brings all the different spots of color 
into a single harmony of effect. They are no longer 
separate and independent, but drawn together and 
united by the veil of lighted atmosphere. Of this 


^Naturalistic Composition 

again, we will speak when we reach the subject of 

But the rhythm of this picture, in what does it 
consist ? Yes, in the movement, not of form, but of 
light. Uniting all the colors into a single harmony, 
it flows in and out through the lighter and darker 
parts of the composition; sometimes in a broad 
sweeping flood, as on the wall; sometimes in little 
pulses of movement, as it leaps from point to point ; 
now losing itself in the hollow of a shadow, then 
reappearing in the gleam of a fold; all the while 
streaming through the picture in a continuous ebb 
and flow. In fact, as we study it, we gTadually 
find that the light does for the parts of this com- 
position what the lines of direction did in Raphael's 
— it unites them in a rhythmic movement. 

Do not be disturbed, if at first reading these words 
convey little meaning to you ; or if at first sight you do 
not feel the rhythm of the composition. It is there, 
however, and some day, if you are really going to be 
a student of pictures, you will feel it yourself. 

For the present, if you will accept my word for 
it, I wish you to understand that this rhythmic ef- 
fect of out-of-door light represented a new motive 
in painting. The Italians of the great period did 
not see it. It was the discovery of the Dutch 
realists, those artists of Holland in the Seventeenth 
Century, whose study was the real appearances of 
nature and life.^ Their pictures were not as grand 

' We shall find it was discovered also by the Spanish artist, 
Velasquez, in the same century. 


A Guide to Pictures 

as the Italians'; for they were small in size, and 
were not built up on the magnificently formal plan 
that gives such a dignity and distinction to the 
Italian pictures, ^or are their subjects so heroic 
and impressive. They represent only the facts of 
every day life. Yet they have a great beauty of 
their own, because they rely on the inexhaustible 
beauty of light. 

It is on this same beauty that after two hundred 
years artists of our ov^n day are relying. They 
have gone back to the example of Vermeer and the 
other Dutch artists, and are applying it to the study 
of similar subjects. They are painting nature as it 
shows itself to them in its envelope of lighted atmos- 




WE come now to the other arm of the Y, about 
which we spoke in a previous chapter. Land- 
scape had been used as a background to the fig- 
ures, until in the Seventeenth Century some artists 
began to make it the chief subject of their pic- 
tures. But no sooner was landscape painting prac- 
tised as a separate art than it branched into two 
directions. We followed one of these and saw how 
Claude Lorrain invented the formal, or classic 
landscape; taking bits of nature, some from one 
place, some from another, and building them up into 
an artificial composition, which he made more grand 
by the addition of classic architecture. It was not 
unlike the way in which a handsome house is built; 
the materials, — stone, wood, marble, and so on — 
are brought together from various places, hewed to 
certain shapes designed by the architect, and then 
put together according to the rule or formula of 
building. The main difference is that, though the 
classic landscape does not represent any actual spot 
in nature, it still bears a resemblance to nature. 
But it is nature worked over by the fancy of man, 
and improved according to his own idea of what is 


A Guide to Pictures 

beautiful. The artist did not paint nature because 
he loved it as it is^ but because it furnished him 
with material for making a handsome picture. And 
this picture-making use of landscape continued to be 
popular with artists and the public well on into the 
Nineteenth Century. 

Meanwhile the other branch of landscape painting 
had been started in the Seventeenth Century by the 
Dutchmen. They, as we have seen, were interested 
above everything in themselves, their own lives and 
surroundings. This was the state of mind of the 
whole people, and the artists gave expression to it 
in their pictures. They too, were picture-makers, 
who by their skill of painting and their love of 
beauty made their pictures beautiful works of art. 
But the subjects that they represented were seldom 
imaginary ones. They painted what they actually 
saw; and with so much truth that their art has 
been called an art of portraiture. They made por- 
traits of people, portraits of the outdoor and in- 
door life, and portraits of their towns and harbors, 
and of the country that surrounded them. So, by 
comparison with the formal or classic landscape, we 
may call their landscapes naturalistic, for they rep- 
resented nature as it actually appeared to their eyes. 

But their art died with them. As soon as Holland 
had secured her independence, her artists began to 
travel to foreign countries, especially to Italy. 
There they set themselves to imitate the great Ital- 
ians, and so far as landscape was concerned, joined 
in the popular taste for the classic kind. It was not 


Crossing the Brook. ./. M. IT. T 


The Naturalistic Landscape 

until a hundred years later, namely at the end of 
the Eighteenth Century, that an English artist, Con- 
stable, revived the naturalistic style of landscape. 
He was a miller's son, whose boyhood had been spent 
amid the simple loveliness of nature. Later he went 
to London and studied painting ; but while he worked 
in the big city, his heart was in the country, and 
he suddenly made up his mind to go back to the 
old scenes, and paint what he knew and loved. He 
had seen some of the landscapes of the old Dutch- 
men, and resolved that he would do what they had 
done. In his own words, he would be a " natural 

It was not long before the example of Constable 
led some of the younger French artists to study the 
old Dutch pictures in the Louvre. They were dis- 
satisfied with the methods of painting upheld by the 
older artists. It seemed to them a waste of time to 
set up a model in a studio, and then, instead of 
drawing it as they saw it, to correct it according to 
some standard of perfection. 'Roy did they find any 
interest in putting a number of such figures into 
artificial groups, in order to build up some grand 
composition, supposed to represent some classical 
subject or story of the old time. They were full of 
interest in the life of their own time, which was the 
period following the Revolution, when Erance felt 
young again and vigorous, and the young artists 
and poets and fiction-writers were eager to express 
in their work their joy in the reality of life. When 
life was so real and so full of promise, why should 


A Guide to Pictures 

they look back to the times of the great Italians and 
occupy themselves with the artificial and make- 
believe ? 

Among these younger men was one, Theodore 
Rousseau. He was not only independent in char- 
acter and determined to see things with his own 
eyes and to represent them as he saw them and felt 
them, but he had a great love of nature. This led 
him away from the city into the country; where he 
studied the skies and the trees, and all the objects 
of the landscape with an ever increasing love and 
knowledge, until he came to know nature, as few 
have done, and to feel toward it, as a man feels to- 
ward that which he loves best in all the world. His 
favorite spot in nature was that which surrounds 
the Palace of Fontainebleau, an ancient residence 
some thirty miles from Paris, of the kings of 
France. It is a rolling tract of ground, broken up 
with rocky glens and thick with forest trees, espe- 
cially the oak. On the outskirts of this enchanting 
garden of wildness, in the little village of Barbizon, 
Pousseau made his home, and around him gathered 
other artists, fascinated by the beauty of nature. 
Among them was the Jean Frangois Millet whose 
picture, The Sower, we have already studied. He 
for the most part painted the peasants, working in 
the fields or tending their flocks; but the others, 
among them Dupre, Corot, and Diaz, painted the 
landscape, while Troyon introduced cows into his 
pictures and Jacque, sheep. With all of them the 
motive was to represent nature as they saw and felt 


The Naturalistic Landscape 

it. They are known as the Fontainebleau-Barbizon 
group of artists^ and their example has had very 
great influence on modern art. I shall speak of it 
presently ; meanwhile will continue the story of nat- 
uralistic landscape. 

It is a very interesting fact that while these 
French artists were going straight to nature for their 
subjects and inspiration, some American artists, 
knowing nothing of the Frenchmen, were doing the 
same thing. A similar love of nature and longing 
to paint it as they saw and felt it drew them from 
the city to the beautiful spots that border on the 
Hudson River. Their leader was Thomas Cole, who 
made his headquarters among the hills and valleys, 
the waterfalls and luxuriant vegetation of the ro- 
mantic Catskills. Other names are those of Thomas 
Doughty, Asher B. Durand, John F. Kensett. 
Sometimes they painted the grander aspects of the 
scenery; the broad Hudson sweeping past its head- 
lands, or the lakes with their girdle of mountains; 
but quite as often the simpler loveliness of smiling 
meadows and cosy farms. But always with the sin- 
cere wish to represent, as faithfully as they could, 
the natural beauty that they loved. 

Gradually, however, as the country expanded 
Westward and the pioneer spirit of the nation was 
aroused, American artists began to attempt bigger 
subjects. Church, Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran 
attacked the colossal wonders of the Yellowstone and 
the Rockies. It was no longer the beauty of nature 
that inspired them, so much as its marvelousness 


A Guide to Pictures 

and immensity. As many people believe, they tried 
to do something that is beyond the power of paint- 
ing to express. For on the comparatively tiny space 
of their canvasses they did succeed in expressing 
some of the appearances of nature's grandeur, but 
they hardly made you feel it. I believe myself it is 
impossible that they should; for an artist can only 
make you feel in his picture something of what he 
himself has felt; and he must have thoroughly mas- 
tered his own feeling before he can express it. But 
in the presence of the stupendous works of nature, 
as far as my experience goes, the feeling masters 
ourselves. Amid the vastness of the height and 
depth and breadth and the grandeur and glory and 
marvel of it all, our spirit is swept out of us. We 
see the mighty volume of water coming over 
Niagara and hear the roar of its might; but not as 
we gaze into the face of a friend and listen to the 
voice that we have learned to know and love so well. 
In the one case our feeling is all brought to a cen- 
ter of attraction, in the other it is caught away and 
carried beyond our comprehension. We can only 
lose ourselves in wonder. 

Well, artists discovered the truth of this. Con- 
stable and Rousseau lead the way, and now it is the 
usual habit of the landscape artists to study nature 
as one studies the face and form, the expression 
and action of a friend. One cannot know a 
number of friends as intimately as one or two. 
So they have confined their pictures to the few 
and simple aspects of nature; one little fragment 


The l^aturalistic Landscape 

at a time, studied with loving intimacy and rep- 
resented with the faithfulness of sincere and thor- 
ough knowledge. In doing so, they have learned 
like Johannes Vermeer and other Dutch artists of 
the Seventeenth Century, that much of the beauty 
and almost all the expression on the face of nature 
are due to the effects of natural light. Light has 
become the special study of the modern painters of 
the naturalistic landscape. And they have carried 
it further than the other artists did. Helped by 
the scientific men, who have examined into the color 
of light, the modern artist has found out how to 
represent a great variety of the effects of light: 
cool or warm light, the light at a particular hour 
of the day, at a particular season of the year, and 
in a particular kind of w^eather. In fact, the light 
that he represents in his pictures is a faithful ren- 
dering of some one of the countless conditions of 
natural light. 

You remember how the light in Yermeer's pic- 
ture drew all the parts of the composition into a 
harmonious whole and gave it rhythm. So too, in 
these modern naturalistic landscapes the artist has 
ceased to depend upon line and form in making the 
composition. The latter is now rather an arrange- 
ment of masses of lighted color. We will talk more 
about this when we come to color; for the present, 
it is enough to remember that we must not expect 
to find in modern naturalistic landscapes the same 
handsome patterns of composition that we find in 
the classical. The modern have less dignity, but 


A Guide to Pictures 

a more intimate charm. We do not stand apart 
from the scene and admire it; we rather enter in 
to it and enjoy it. It is something with which we 
are familiar in nature, but we are made to feel a 
greater beauty in it through the personal feeling 
that the artist has put into his work. The French 
have a term for this kind of landscape, which well 
expresses the artist's motive and the feelings which 
his picture inspires in us. They call it the " 'pay- 
sage intime.^^ ^ Literally translated this means " in- 
timate landscape " ; but it may be rendered more 
freely a landscape in which we recognise how in- 
timately the artist has studied his subject. 

• ••••• 

I have given you a sketch of the growth of nat- 
uralistic landscape in the Seventeenth Century up 
to our own day, when this branch of painting has 
become fully as important as that of figure subjects. 
Now let me briefly describe the change that has 
taken place in the motive of the landscape painter. 

The motive, or aim of the early Dutchmen was 
to make their pictures resemble as much as possible 
the actual landscape. They were, as I have said, 
^^ portraits '' of the natural surroundings. In their 
desire that the portraits should be lifelike these ar- 
tists painted in as many of the details as they could. 
Moreover their point of view was objective. By 
" point of view " I mean the way in which they 
looked at the landscape ; and I call it " objective," 
because they looked at it simply as an object in 

» Pronounced pa-ee-sahje an-teem. 

The E'aturalistic Landscape 

front of them to he painted as nearly as possible 
lifelike. This is the usual point of view of the 
modern photographer. You go to him to have your 
portrait taken. He poses you as an object in front 
of his camera. His aim is to make a portrait that 
will be like you, and will also please you because it 
is a good-looking picture. He will do the same for 
the next person that comes to him, and for the 
next, and so on. All of them are simply objects 
to be photographed. He has no personal feeling 
toward any of them; his point of view is objective. 
But, suppose he makes a portrait of his own 
child. He will wish it to be more than a likeness 
that any one would recognise. He wants it to be 
a reminder in after years, when she is grown up 
and changed, of how she used to look as a little 
one, in moments when to her mother and himself 
she seemed more than ever a darling. To him, you 
see, she is not merely an object to be photographed ; 
his point of view towards his own child is not ob- 
jective; on the contrary it is influenced by his per- 
sonal love for her; the picture is to be a likeness 
plus something more — a reflection of his own feel- 
ing. This personal kind of point of view is called 
" subjective," the opposite to objective. Perhaps 
you will understand the difference between the two 
more clearly by the following sentence : " The pho- 
tographer photographs Mrs. X." The photographer 
is the subject of the verb, photographs, " Mrs. X.'^ 
is the object. In this case the object is of more 
importance than the subject because it is Mrs. X. 


A ijruide to Pictures 

"who pays the money and has to be considered. But 
change the words in this way — " The father photo- 
graphs his little one." 'Now, so far as the taking 
of the photograph is concerned, the father is the 
more important. He is the subject of the verb, the 
one who is going to do something and do it his own 
way, so as to represent something which he, the sub- 
ject, has in his mind. His point of view is entirely 
his o^vn — the subjective. Observe how this will 
affect the way in which he takes the photograph. 

The little one has just come in, we will say, from 
a romp in the meadow. Her hair is tumbled and 
the light plays through the silky strands ; there is 
a sparkle of sunshine in her eyes; her lips are 
parted in a sunny smile as she stretches out to her 
father a podgy hand, tightly clasping a bunch of 
daisies. " Little love " he thinks to himself, ^^ what 
a picture ! " He seizes his camera, and tells her to 
stand still a minute. What is it, do you think that 
he is going to try and cat<3h ? I need hardly say it 
is the radiance in her face. Perhaps her podgy 
hand too; but first and chiefly that expression of 
happiness and love; for it is an echo, as it were, of 
the happiness and love that he feels in his own 
heart toward her. If he succeed, the picture will 
be as much an expression of his own subjective feel- 
ing toward the child, as of the child herself. 

If you see what I mean you can now begin to un- 
derstand how Constable, and, even more, Rous- 
seau and the other Fontainebleau-Barbizon artists 
looked at nature. 'No longer an objective point of 


The Naturalistic Landscape 

view, like the old Dutchmen's, it was a subjective 
one. To them nature was not merely an object of 
which to make a portrait. It was something they 
loved, and, because they loved it, they painted it, 
and in such a way that their pictures embodied the 
feeling which they had for nature. They are full 
of the artist's personal feeling, or as it is sometimes 
called, sentiment. A landscape of Rousseau's sets 
our imagination working. It may represent an oak 
tree and a rocky boulder, half hidden in ferns and 
vines, some little spot in the forest of Fontainebleau. 
As we look at it we become more and more con- 
scious of the strength and vigor of the tree ; the 
firmness of its huge trunk, the mighty muscles of its 
brawny arms, the grip which it has upon the ground, 
and our imagination may begin thinking of the 
roots hidden, below the ground. While the branches 
spread out to the sunshine and the air, the unseen 
roots reach out and grip the soil and grapple with 
the rocks, anchoring firmly the tree against the 
storms of weather and time. And perhaps we begin 
to feel, as Housseau himself did, that the oak is a 
symbol of the might of nature ; and how she silently 
works on regardless of the changes that happen in 
the lot of comparatively short-lived men. Or we 
look at one of Corot's pictures of the twilight, in 
which the trees seem to have sunk asleep in blurs 
of shade against the pale, faint light that is fading 
from the sky; and the hush and tenderness of the 
daily miracle of nature's rest steals over our spirits. 
It is as if we were listening to the pensive melody 


A Guide to Pictures 

of some sweet lyrical poem, very gently and rever- 
ently read; such a one, perhaps, as Longfellow's 
" Hymn to the Night." On the other hand, to re- 
ceive an impression like that of Rousseau's picture, 
we must choose a poem that tells, not of rest, but of 
the grandeur of human effort, and must read it in 
a strong voice and confidently, as if we were sure 
that to be strong and faithful to the end was a 
grand thing. 

Indeed, so many landscapes, not only by the 
Fontainebleau-Barbizon artists, but also by modern 
men who are following in their footsteps, are full 
of the suggestion of poetry, and we speak of them 
as poetic landscapes. This does not mean that they 
illustrate any particular poem, but that they affect 
one's imagination in somewhat the same way as 
poetry does. The reason is that such artists have 
the spirit of poets. For nature arouses in them 
deep emotions, and their pictures, like the poet's 
verses, not only describe the beauty of nature, but 
express the sentiment, or feeling, of their own souls. 

On the other hand^ you must not expect to find 
this suggestion of poetry in all modern naturalistio 
landscape. There are still artists whose point of 
view, like that of the old Dutchmen, is objective. 
They are content to paint the beauty of nature 
simply as it shows itself to their eyes. [N'or need 
we argue as to which is the better way, this, or the 
subjective point of view. We may prefer the one or 
the other ; though, perhaps, it is better for us to keep 
our minds open to the beauties of both. 






WHE^N^ we began to speak about composition 
we continually used the words " line and 
form." Gradually, however, as we left the subject 
of formal composition and talked of naturalistic 
composition, we found ourselves substituting the 
words " colored masses." 

It would seem then as if there were a distinction 
between these two things ; that form was on one side 
of the fence and color on the other. Yet that would 
contradict our experience; for we know that every- 
thing which has a form or shape, visible to the eye, 
has also color that we can see. And most things 
that have color are seen to have a shape or form. 
Kot all; for example, when the sky is a cloudless 
blue, or when we gaze over a distant expanse of 
sea. Still, as a general experience, color and form 
are identical. The face of a friend — you recognise 
it by its color as well as by the form of the features ; 
and, should you have the sorrow of looking upon 
that face when it is dead, the change in the color 
would make you recognise the once familiar fea- 
tures as strangely different. 

Yet, notwithstanding the identity of form and 


A Guide to Pictures 

color, we find a certain separation between the two, 
when we come to study pictures. The reason is that 
some artists are more sensitive to form, others to 
color. As I have already said, an artist paints only 
the particular impression of an object which his 
eye receives. Every eye has its own particular way 
of seeing. Even the eye, most sensitive to form, 
will not see it as other eyes will; nor will any one 
color seem the same to every eye that is chiefly in- 
terested in color. This is only another way of say- 
ing that the varieties in nature are inexhaustible. 
^Nevertheless, although no two elm trees are exactly 
alike, all elm trees are sufficiently similar to be rec- 
ognised at once as elm trees. So with artists, some 
group themselves as painters of form; others, of 
color. In the old Italian days this distinction 
separated the artists of Florence from those of 
Venice. The Florentines — Leonardo da Vinci, 
Michelangelo, Raphael, among the greatest — were 
masters of form; the Venetians, especially in the 
persons of Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, and Paul 
Veronese, were masters of color. The one group 
saw especially the shapes of things, the other saw 
the world as an arrangement of spots or masses of 

The Florentines, in consequence of their interest 
in form, took great pains with the outlines of their 
figures. The outlines were clearly defined; in the 
mural paintings the figures were enclosed by an 
actual line; and always the figure shows distinctly 
against the background. For, having drawn the 


Form and Color 

figure very carefully, the artist did not let the color, 
that was afterwards laid on, lap over the line or 
interfere with the subtle undulations of the outline. 
They were in fact, a school of great draughtsmen, 
who relied principally on the beauty and vigor of 
the drawing. The Venetians, however, were great 
colorists, relying on color; and may be spoken of 
as painters rather than draughtsmen. Yet they too, 
of course^ were masters of drawing. They could 
represent the action of the figure as well as the 
Florentines, but unlike the latter, did not care for 
the clear outline. On the contrary, they softened 
or blurred the outline slightly, in closer imitation 
of nature. 

If, for example, you look carefully at a tree, you 
will not find that its shape is enclosed by a hard 
line. The light creeps round the edges of the trunk 
and of the masses of foliage in such a way that the 
outlines are softened or slightly blurred. It is the 
same with a figure seated in a room; here and 
there its edges may seem sharply cut out against 
the background, but in other parts the edges will 
seem to melt into the background. In other 
words, as we look at the figure, what we are most 
conscious of is not its outline, but its mass of color 
in relation to the other masses of color that sur- 
round it. 

]^ow, this distinction, between the way in which 
the Florentines and the Venetians saw and repre- 
sented objects, still appears in modern art. In fact, 
ever since the days of the great Italians there have 


A Guide to Pictures 

been artists who relied on drawing and artists who 
relied on color. Por over a hundred years the im- 
portance of drawing has been upheld by the great 
school of art in Paris maintained by the Prench 
government. One of its famous teachers, Ingres, 
used to tell his pupils " form is everything, color 
is nothing." Perhaps he only meant by this that, 
as long as they were pupils, the only necessary thing 
for them to think about and learn to represent was 
form. Because to draw well is so important for 
any artist, and it is a thing that can be thoroughly 
taught and learned. The Prench school takes as 
its standard of excellence the perfect forms of clas- 
sic sculpture and the great works of the Plorentine 
artists. Although the student may be drawing 
from a living model whose form is not perfect, he 
is taught to correct the imperfections of this or that 
part, in order that the figure, as it appears in his 
drawing, may be as near as he can get it to classic 
perfection. But color, as we shall see presently, is 
so much a matter of each person's feeling, that it 
is impossible to reduce the teaching of it to any 
method or standard. So perhaps that is what In- 
gres had in mind. He meant that, for the time 
being, his students should consider form to be 
everything, color nothing. 

On the other hand it is generally understood that 
he meant much more than this, that he was telling 
his pupils what he himself considered to be the 
whole duty of an artist. Let us try and enter into 
his point of view. 


Form and Color 

I can imagine some of my readers saying that 
the phrase, "form is everything; color, nothing," 
is nonsense; because color plays so important a part 
in our enjoyment of sight. Just think what a 
dreary world it would be, if everything, for in- 
stance, were a uniform gray! Quite true, and In- 
gres probably would have agreed. As a man, he no 
doubt enjoyed the pleasures of color. But it was 
as an artist that he was speaking. He was stating 
what he believed to be the proper subject of his ovni 

In the first place he was evidently one of those 
artists who see the shape rather than the color of 
things; to whom form makes an irresistible appeal. 
In the second place — and mark, for this is very im- 
portant — he was not thinking of how things appear 
in the actual world, but how they should be repre- 
sented in art. He was one of those artists who are 
not interested in naturalistic painting; who do not 
profess to paint nature. On the contrary, like the 
great Italians, he only borrowed from nature certain 
materials in order to build them up into a formal 
composition of his own creation. He would have 
told you that he was not representing the works of 
nature but creating for himself a totally different 
thing — a work of art. 

On the other hand, many artists will reply, that 
the work of art need not be a totally different 
thing. That they themselves, like the Dutch of the 
Seventeenth Century and all the modern painters 
of the naturalistic composition, combine the two. 


A Guide to Pictures 

It is hj representing nature, that they create a work 
of art. 

Here, you see, is a sharp conflict of points of 
view. One group of artists, loving nature, desires 
to represent it; the other, perhaps not loving nature 
less, certainly loves art more. This latter group, 
therefore, tries to improve on nature, and to use it 
only for the creation of something that it feels to 
be different and superior to nature. While the one 
set of men wed nature to art, the other divorce art 
from nature. Between the two there is a Great 
Divide, which no amount of talking can bridge over. 
The only conclusion to be reached is that there is 
right on both sides. For the one group, because of 
the kind of men composing it, its own way is the 
right way; and for the other, for the same reason, 
its way. We, as lookers on at the dispute, will do 
well to learn to see the beauty in both kinds of 

You may as well know the names by which the 
two points of view are known. With one, the 
naturalistic, we have already become acquainted. 
The other is called by the artists who practise it the 
^'^ idealistic.'' They will tell you that they paint 
" ideal " subjects. By those, however, who dis- 
agree with them, their point of view and method are 
apt to be called Academic. 

The word ideal, used in this sense, has the mean- 
ing " more perfect than in real life." When a person 
says: " The ideal way to spend a summer holiday " 
— we know even before he utters the next words, 


Form and Color 

" would be," that he is going to tell us something 
that he does not expect to enjoy. It is how he 
would have things, if he could arrange them ac- 
cording to his own idea of perfection, ^ow this 
is what the artist means when he calls his picture 
an ideal one. 

Personally, I do not like this use of the word, 
because it seems to imply that this kind of picture 
is superior to the other. And the artists who paint 
this kind of picture believe that it is; we, however, 
who are simply students of pictures, longing to en- 
joy the beauty of all kinds of motive and ways of 
painting, will not admit this. We go back to the 
fact with which I started this book: that the value 
of a picture does not depend upon the subject but 
the way in which the artist has rendered it. Be- 
cause a man portrays some noble incident from 
poetry or the Bible, or invents some scene out of 
his brain, it does not follow that his picture will 
represent a higher degree of beauty or a finer 
imagination than one which only represents some 
simple scene in nature. I will go further and say 
that some of the pictures of " still life '' ^ by the 
Frenchman, Antoine Vollon, or our own American 
artist, Emil C arisen, exhibit more beauty, yes, and 
even more imagination than many ambitious figure 
subjects. Why is this? How can a picture of a 
pumpkin and vegetables by Vollon, or one of Carl- 

» Still life, or as the French call it "dead nature" includes, 
firstly, picked flowers, fruit and vegetables, and dead animals, 
and secondly, vases, pots, and other objects of man's handicraft. 


A Guide to Pictures 

sen's subjects, such as a creamy porcelain vase, and 
a lemon, and one or two other delicately colored 
objects on a white tablecloth, show more beauty and 
imagination than, for instance, an imposing picture 
like Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware ? 

The answer is that Vollon and Carlsen exhibit 
more feeling for beauty and more imagination in 
matters that especially belong to painting, while 
Leutze went outside of painting. Let me explain 
myself. Leutze saw beauty in the heroism of Wash- 
ington and his soldiers, fighting against tremendous 
odds for a great cause in the terrible cold of winter. 
His imagination was kindled by the importance of 
the cause and the devotion of those who fought for 
it. It was the facts, as they appealed to his mind, 
and the ideas that his mind formed about them 
which he tried to represent. But the special field 
for the artist, as I have already said, is not covered 
by his mind but by his eyes. It is with what he 
can see that he should be first and chiefly concerned 
— the beauty of the visible world. And his imagi- 
nation as an artist is chiefly shown in the capacity 
that his mind has for discovering unexpected beau- 
ties and rendering them. Thus to ourselves, and 
even to some artists, a pumpkin may seem but a 
bright orange mass, with a rough or shiny rind as 
the case may be; an attractive spot of color and 
shape, a thing to be admired for a moment and 
then forgotten. Another artist, on the contrary, 
sees a great deal more in it. He sees subtle differ- 
ences of color, according to the way the light falls 


Form and Color 

on it^ various delicate differences in the roughness 
or smoothness of the rind; curiously beautiful ac- 
cidents of color^ as it reflects the colors of other ob- 
jects near it ; mysteries of shadow, some deep and 
strong, others so faint that an ordinary eye might 
not detect them. These and other qualities, that 
his sensitive eyes perceive, create impressions in his 
brain that fill his imagination with a sense of 
beauty somewhat as music does. He cannot tell 
you why he enjoys it so much, or explain in words 
the effect it has on his imagination. The whole 
impression is a vision of his imagination, excited 
by the sense of sight, and this vision he sets to 
work to interpret on his canvas, in order that it 
may be communicated to our eyesight, and, in turn, 
excite our imagination. We receive from form and 
color feelings of pleasure that we cannot describe in 
words but which are not less real on that account. 
It is an abstract enjoyment, free from any distinct 
connection with words or facts. On the other hand, 
in Washington Crossing the Delaware it is the rec- 
ord of facts, presented in the picture, that chiefly 
interests us. Neither the forms nor the arrangement 
of color have in themselves any separate abstract 
quality of beauty. 

So, it is not upon the beauty of the things seen 
by the eyes, but upon the interest of things under- 
stood by the mind that Leutze depended. He 
really neglected his own proper field of painting, 
for that of the writer or orator. Therefore, he put 
himself at a disadvantage; for I think you will 


A Guide to Pictures 

admit, that a good speaker or writer could describe 
the incident in a much more thrilling way than the 
picture does. 

But we have strayed somewhat from our point. 
We were speaking of idealistic pictures, and noted 
that they are so called because the artist instead of 
representing nature as it is, corrects it and improves 
upon it in order to bring it up to what he considers 
an " ideal " standard of perfection. I mentioned 
that these pictures and the motive which prompts 
them are also called " Academic." 

The reason is that the school in Paris which 
teaches these principles of painting is maintained by 
the Academy of the Pine Arts ; and its example has 
been followed by many other European Academies 
of painting. So, when we speak of a picture being 
Academic in character, we mean that its motive and 
manner of painting follow the rules laid down by 
the schools. To repeat a word we have frequently 
used before, they are based on the Academic For-- 
mula. Previously it was the Classic formula of 
which we spoke. This, you remember was the rule 
or plan for building up a formal composition, some- 
times strengthened by the introduction of classic 
architecture and often representing some scene or 
story of classic legend. And it is upon this classic 
formula that the Academic practice is largely based. 
So when a modern artist paints a picture after the 
fashion of Paphael's Jurisprudence, we can speak 
of its manner and motive as being Academic, Clas- 
sic, or Idealistic. Sometimes, in fact, the meaning 


Form and Color 

of these words is practically the same, but not 

For at times an Academic painter will choose an 
everyday subject of ordinary life, yet his picture 
will not be naturalistic. There are two ways in 
which he may miss the truth of nature. Either he 
will try to improve upon the actual facts, or he 
will leave out the light and atmosphere in which the 
objects appear in nature. We may find examples 
of both these contradictions of the natural truth in 
Leutze's picture. He was trained in the Academy of 
Dusseldorf, a city on the Rhine; at a time when 
that school had abandoned Classical subjects for in- 
cidents from history, or scenes from German leg- 
ends, or what it called genre-pictures of peasant 
life. But these last were not genre in the sense that 
the old Dutch pictures were. For the latter repro- 
duced the actual habits and life of the times, where- 
as the Diisseldorf artists presented fancy pictures 
in which the peasants were grouped, as if they 
were taking part in some scene in an opera or other 
theatrical performance. This artificial treatment 
appears in Washington Crossing the Delaware. 

It is supposed to represent a historical incident. 
Do you think it has the value of history; that the 
incident really happened as it is here depicted? 
The artist, of course, was not present; he was com- 
pelled to shape the facts of the incident according 
to what he had read about them, or, as I rather 
suspect, according to what his fancy had pictured 
them. History tells us that the crossing began 


A Guide to Pictures 

early in the evening of December 25, 1Y76, and 
lasted until four a.m. the following morning. Does 
this picture represent the dimness of a winter twi- 
light, much less the gloom of night? I might ask 
the further question, is any kind of natural light 
suggested in this picture ? I feel confident the an- 
swer is " no." Leutze probably had no thought 
of representing this aspect of the truth ; the Diissel- 
dorf School paid no attention to the real appearances 
of light ; or to the effect that light would have upon 
the appearance of the figures. Their outlines are 
sharply defined; every figure is rendered with about 
equal distinctness; no effort has been made to rep- 
resent them in relation to one another, with varying 
degrees of clearness and obscurity. A similar arti- 
ficiality appears in the representation of the ice. It 
is true the lights and shadows and gleam of the 
surfaces of real ice have been studied; so that the 
painting conveys the idea of ice; but this is a very 
different thing from the painted blocks representing 
the effects of real ice, as seen in real light. 

So we find that Leutze, though wishing to give 
us a vivid representation of the incident, has ne- 
glected a number of important facts relating to the 
hour of the occurrence and to the conditions of at- 
mosphere and light, as they must have affected the 
appearance of the scene. He was simply not inter- 
ested in these matters. Then, what of the point on 
which he evidently relied — the grouping of the 
figures in the foreground? It is a ticklish job to 
pull a boat through a mass of floating ice-cakes. 



Sh ^ 







Form and Color 

Do jou think that Washington and the flag-hearer 
would have increased the difficulty and peril hy 
standing up? Don't you know that to stand up in 
a boat even on smooth water is a foolhardy thing 
to do? It is a frequent cause of accident and loss 
of life in pleasure parties. On an occasion so seri- 
ous as this would the leader have been guilty of 
such folly? Certainly not. Washington and every 
man, not actually engaged in navigating the boat, 
would have been sitting low down, so as to help 
preserve the balance and offer as little resistance as 
possible to the wind. Here, then, is another indif- 
ference to facts in this so-called historic picture. 
But Leutze did not care about facts. His motive 
was to bring out the heroic character of the events. 
So he made Washington strike a heroic attitude. 
It is the way in which a popular actor takes the 
center of the stage and strikes an attitude and waits 
for the applause. Leutze wanted a central figure 
around which to build up his composition and, in 
order to support the central figure, reared another 
behind it holding aloft the flag. Thus he wins ap- 
plause, at once, for the star actor and the patriotic 
sentiment of the scene. In fact his composition is 
similar in intention and arrangement to the group- 
ing of figures on the stage of a popular theater. 
It is theatrical. I do not say dramatic, but theat- 
rical, between which two ideas there is this distinc- 
tion. When we speak of a scene being dramatic we 
mean that the action of the plot has been vividly 
expressed by means that create an illusion of truth 


A Guide to Pictures 

— that the characters behave as they might be ex- 
pected to do in real life under the circumstances. 
By theatrical, on the other hand, we imply that the 
behaviour of the actors, instead of ^^ holding the 
mirror up to nature,'' is regulated so as to produce 
an artificial effectiveness. Such a scene we call 
theatrical, or stagey. And the same words, in my 
opinion, can be applied to this picture. For Leutze 
failed to realise, not only that truth may be 
stronger than fiction, but also that it may be more 
impressive than artificial effectiveness. The true 
word spoken in simple earnestness, the true act done 
simply, often move men's imagination, where loud 
rhetoric and ostentatious conduct leave it cold. So, 
too, in a picture, a deeper sentiment may be aroused 
by simple truth of representation, than by a display 
of mock heroics. 

In this picture, you will observe, we have been 
discussing the Academic point of view applied to the 
representation of an incident that really happened. 
The painter undertook a real subject, but has not 
rendered it as it would have really appeared to us, 
had we been there to see the event. This is a charge 
that can be brought against many so-called historical 
pictures, and against those smaller ones, the genre 
pictures, which are supposed to represent incidents 
of actual everyday life. When painted in the Aca- 
demic manner they are not true to life, but artifi- 
cially concocted. 

On the other hand, as I have said, many Aca- 
demic pictures, choosing classical or idealistic sub- 


!Form and Color 

jects, make no pretence of representing life. They 
try to improve on life by making their forms more 
beautiful than they actually are in nature; and 
build up compositions which must not be compared 
with the way in which people group themselves in 
real life. In such pictures we do not look for nat- 
ural beauty but for that of the artist's own inven- 

So, to bring the subject to a finish, we must bear 
in mind that there are two distinct ways of paint- 
ing a picture. If the artist has tried to represent 
nature, we must learn to compare it with nature ; 
if on the contrary, he has tried to paint a subject 
of " ideal perfection," we must not find fault with 
its unnaturalness. We may prefer the one or the 
other kind; but should not let our preference inter- 
fere with our judgment of the different merits of 
each. Untirwe recognise the "Great Divide" be- 
tween the Academic and the Naturalistic points of 
view, we shall not get very far in our appreciation 
of pictures. 



TT was mentioned in the previous chapter that 
■■' artists may be divided into two classes: those 
who are particularly interested in the shape or 
form of what they see, and those who see the world 
as an arrangement of ^^ colored masses." It is the 
latter way of seeing things that we are now going 
to consider. 

We know that everything visible to the eye has 
color. When we think of a garden lavni, an im- 
pression of green comes into our mind. Green, an 
artist would say, is the local color of the lawn — the 
general hue which distinguishes it from the paths 
and flower beds. There may be dandelions spotted 
about the grass; indeed it is a lucky lawn that is 
not overrun with them ; yet, notwithstanding the 
yellow patches, the local color of the lawn is green.. 
And this is true, although here and there the grass 
may appear yellow in the warm sunshine, or, 
where the shadows of the trees lie, may have a 
bluish tinge; or again, in the distance may appear 
to be almost gray. You see then, that when we 
begin to talk about color, we do. not think only of 
the general hue or local color, but also of the 



changes which take place in its appearance, accord- 
ing as it is subject to light and shadow or is seen 
near or further off. 

N'ow let us take another case. A woman, we will 
suppose, has a quantity of white cotton material 
which she proposes to dye blue. She buys some 
indigo, and puts it in a tub of water. Into this 
dye-bath she plunges the cotton,, and then hangs it 
on a line to dry. When she has taken it down and 
ironed it, it presents a uniform hue of blue, its 
local color. But what happens when she has made 
it up into a dress ? The local color remains the 
same; but the appearance is no longer of a uniform 
hue. In some parts the blue is paler or whiter than 
the local color, in other parts darker; for now the 
material is not spread out smoothly, the light no 
longer falls upon every part of it in the same way. 
The skirt, for example, hangs in folds; and the full 
light strikes directly only on the raised edges of 
the pleats. Into the hollow of the fold less light 
penetrates, and at different angles. 

Just what do we mean by angle of light? We 
must remember that the rays of light coming from 
the sun, radiate or travel outward in straight lines, 
as the spokes of a wheel radiate from the hub; ex- 
cept that the spokes of light are not confined to a 
flat circle, but radiate in all directions from every 
part of the sun's orb. But to return to the wheel. 
Let us suppose that it is a buggy's wheel, and that 
the buggy is jacked up, so that we can turn the 
wheel easily. We will do so until one of the spokes 


A Guide to Pictures 

is pointing straight down to the ground, and, to 
make sure that it is exactly vertical, we will suspend 
in front of it a string with a weight attached to its 
lower end. If the spoke follows exactly the direc- 
tion of this plumb line, then we know that it is 
pointing down directly to the surface of the ground. 
We know, in fact^ that the direction of the spoke 
is at right angles to the surface of the ground; or, 
which amounts to the same thing, we may say that 
the surface of the ground is at right angles to the 
direction of the spoke. 

But what about the direction of the other spokes 
of the wheel? With them the plumb line will not 
help us. We must get a straight stick, say the 
handle of the stable broom. If we hold this along 
the direction of either of the spokes, nearest to the 
center one^ we shall find that when the handle 
touches the ground, it will be at a point further off 
from the hub, and not at a right angle to the 
ground but at an acute angle. If we try the same 
experiment with the next spoke, we may need a 
longer stick, for the point where it reaches the 
ground will be still further from the hub, and the 
angle of direction will be still more acute. If we 
follow on to the next spoke, we shall probably find 
that its direction, when extended, does not reach the 
ground. It points above it. Perhaps it hits the 
barn wall ; and then again comes the question : does 
it hit the wall at a right angle or at an acute angle ? 
The answer to this, if you think a moment, will 
depend upon the position, not only of the spoke, 



but also of the wall. For example, the spoke may 
point directly at the wall, so that when you stand 
at the corner of the barn and run your eye along 
the wall, the spoke will make a right angle with the 
wall's vertical direction. But the wall has another 
direction — a horizontal one; and this may slope 
away from the direction of the spoke, so that if you 
stand in front of the wall, your stick makes with it 
an acute angle. Evidently under some circumstances 
a single direction may make with the surface of the 
wall both an acute and a right angle. 

By this time our experiment, which started out 
so simply, has become perhaps a little puzzling to 
follow. But I don't mind if it has; for I wish you 
to realise that, although this matter of direction 
and angles is simple in principle, it works out in 
a very complicated way. The more we realise this, 
the more we shall realise the wonderful effects of 
light upon color. As a beginning, let us imagine 
that the hub of the wheel is a center of heat, white- 
hot, and that the spokes are rays of light, not sta- 
tionary like the woodwork but travelling outward 
at great speed. The shaft of light that runs straight 
down and strike the ground at right angles to the 
surface, would make the spot where it touches very 
bright. The second shaft, however as it reaches 
the ground further off from the hub will illumine 
the spot with less light. Moreover, since it hits an 
acute angle and is travelling fast, some of it will 
glance off the spot. It will be reflected from the 
surface back and forth, somewhat as a ball is tossed 


A Guide to Pictures 

backwards and forwards from the hands of a group 
of children. 

This fact of reflection and the fact that the so- 
called angle of reflection is the same as the angle 
of incidence, or, in other words, the angle at which 
the light falls upon the object, explains a familiar 
sight. Have you never seen, late in the afternoon, 
when the sun is above the horizon, a blaze upon 
a hill side, so bright that your first thought is it 
must be a house on fire ? You saw it suddenly ; 
and, if you walk a few steps to the right or left, it 
as suddenly disappears; to reappear, however, when 
you resume your former position. By this time you 
know it is not a fire, but the reflection of the sun 
from some window or tin roof. The light, striking 
down upon it, glances off, and, as you happen to 
be in the line of its angle of reflection, strikes you 
full in the eyes. But move your position, so as to 
get out of the " line of fire," and the reflected ray 
passes you by without attracting your notice. 

Here is another example of reflected light, which 
you yourself can control. Do you remember the 
fairy Tinker Bell, in '^ Peter Pan " ; how she ap- 
peared as a patch of light, dancing over the walls? 
Very likely when you returned from the theater 
you made her appear on the walls of your home. 
As you sat at the breakfast table you picked up a 
tumbler of water, or a bright bladed knife, and 
moved it about until it caught the light and tossed 
it across the room on to the wall, where you could 
make the fairy hover by gently shaking the glass 



or knife. On the other hand by changing the posi- 
tion of the glass or knife you could cause her to 
disappear; to reappear if you wished it, on another 
part of the wall. 

!N'ow after considering the difference between 
direct and reflected light, let us go back to the blue 
dress. We were saying, you will remember, that 
the skirt no longer presented an appearance of uni- 
form hue. For the local color of the material had 
become affected by the way in which the light 
reached the folds. On the raised edges the blue ap- 
pears almost white; in the bottom of the hollows, 
where no light penetrates, it appears to be almost 
black. Meanwhile on the sloping edges of the 
folds there are varying degrees of lighter or darker 
blue, according as the material approaches nearer 
to the light, or recedes further from it. In other 
words, the light strikes the surfaces of the dress at 
different angles; there are varieties of reflections, 
and some parts of the skirt are almost entirely re- 
moved from the action of the light. 

But all this time we have been speaking of light, 
and yet the subject of this chapter is color. Well, 
the reason is^ that color is light and light is color. 
If we were shut up in a cellar from which all light 
was excluded, we should see no color. Our eyes 
would experience no sensations of sight whatever, 
and, if we were left there a long time, our eyes, not 
being used, would probably lose their sense of sight. 
But, if after we had been in a cellar a little while 
surrounded by " thick darkness " as the old Eng- 


A Guide to Pictures 

lisli expression is — meaning a darkness so opaque 
that the eye cannot penetrate it — the window shut- 
ter should be opened a trifle, then immediately our 
eyes would experience a sensation of color. The 
shaft of light, cutting across the darkness, would 
look white ; but, if it hit upon a shelf of apples, our 
eye would receive a sensation of green or red or 
yellow. If light is color, why should it seem white 
in one case and some other hue in another ? It is 
because in the whiteness of light are contained all 
the colors of which we are conscious. Very likely 
you know the experiment by which the truth of this 
is shown. Supposing you are still in the cellar and 
place in the pathway of the shaft of light a prism — 
that is to say, a bar of glass not round or square, 
but triangular — what will happen? The glass be- 
ing transparent, the light will pass through it. But 
not in a straight line; for, as it hits one of the 
sloping surfaces of the prism, it will be bent out of 
its course ; and then, as it reaches the opposite slop- 
ing side, it will again be bent into another direc- 
tion. So the light in its passage through the prism 
wall have been twice bent out of its original direc- 
tion; and, when it emerges, it will be no longer a 
single shaft of white light, but will appear as a 
broad band of many colored lights; red, orange, 
yellow, green, blue, violet. We may call this succes- 
sion, a scale of color lights. They correspond in 
hue and order to the bands or scale of colored lights 
in the rainbow, for the latter is the result of an 
act of nature, which on a very large scale is like 



our experiment with the prism. Only nature's 
prism is formed by a bar of rain on which strikes 
a shaft of light through a slit in the thick upper 

With this scale of colored lights scientists have 
made delicate experiments. They have analysed 
the colors more exactly; discovering, that is to say, 
the distinct degrees of color, for instance, between 
the red and the orange, as the one passes into the 
other ; and again between the orange and the yellow, 
the yellow and the green, and so on. Then, after 
discovering the succession of monochromatic tints, 
as they call them, by optical instruments, they have 
tested the power of the human eye to discriminate, 
or detect the difference between these various tints. 
ISTotwithstanding that the difference between the 
latter is so slight, they have found that the eye is 
sensitive to something like two million monochro- 
matic tints. I mention it not to trouble you with 
figures but to stir your imagination; for such a fact 
should fill us with admiration not only of the mar- 
vellous qualities of light but also of the marvellous 
capacity of the human eye. It helps us to begin to 
realise the miracle of light and the immense field 
of study that lies open to the artist who is a color- 
ist, to whom, that is to say, it is the color of the 
visible world that most appeals. 

Light, then, contains within itself all colors. 
When light falls upon an object, for example, a leaf, 
the latter absorbs some of the colors of the light and 
throws off others. The part thrown off in the case 


A Guide to Pictures 

of the leaf is what we call its color: green, or it 
may be greenish yellow, or a bluish green, or in 
autumn, crimson. Every substance has this power 
of absorbing some of the light and of throwing off 
the rest; and it is the different chemical properties 
of different substances that decide which of the 
colors of light they will absorb and which they will 
throw off; or, as we say, causes them to be a certain 

We have spoken of the human eye being sensitive 
to an immense variety of colors. Let us consider the 
meaning of sensitive. In the first place, the eye re- 
ceives an impression that causes it to telegraph to 
the brain a record of the hue; but it means more, 
for the word sensitive implies a capacity to feel. 
In some way or other the brain receives an impres- 
sion of feeling. Just how it does, I understand, is 
not known; but scientists tell us that these impres- 
sions of sight, while they are not quite similar to the 
feelings aroused by sound, have something in com- 
mon. Just as some sounds give pleasure while others 
are disturbing, so with colors — we receive from them 
sensations of pain or pleasure. According to the de- 
gree of our sensitiveness to sound or color our feel- 
ings are aroused. It may be only slightly, or it may 
be more intensely. It is pleasant, for example, to 
hear the sound of the robin's note, and, as we peep 
out of our bedroom window to look at him, we may 
catch sight of the yellow or red notes of color that 
the tulips are beginning to make against the dark 
earth. They too will give us pleasure. And in both 



cases our pleasure may go no further than just a 
little enjoyment of their note of color or sound. Or, 
on the other hand, they may stir our imagination. 
We recognise their notes as the first signs of spring. 
Xature in her mysterious way has whispered alike 
to the robin and the tulip that the rigor of winter 
is over; that spring is come with its birth of new 
life, bringing beauty and happiness in its train. 
And in ourselves, as we recognise the notes of spring, 
life leaps up with a new sense of the beauty and 
happiness of living. Those notes, in fact, which be- 
gan by giving only simple pleasure to our ear, have 
stirred ideas in our minds; they have become asso- 
ciated in our imagination with a fuller and higher 
sense of life. 

On the other hand, some notes of sound distress 
us. The unexpected discharge of a gun may strike 
us unpleasantly; the roar of the wind and the rain 
against the window fill us with melancholy ; the cry 
of a creature in pain, even before w^e know whence 
the cry comes or the reason of it, may cut us like 
a knife. I mean, that sounds, quite apart from any 
definite thoughts that we associate with them, may 
hurt us. So may colors. I might illustrate this by 
saying that sometimes when we enter a room the 
color of the carpet, perhaps green with red roses as 
big as cabbages, and the color of the furniture, 
which may be of gold upholstered in blue, seem to 
start up and hit us a bang in the eye. But perhaps 
you like smart colors, so I will offer another ex- 
ample. Shakespeare said — 


A Guide to Pictures 

She never told her love, 
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud, 
Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought, 
And with a green and yellow melancholy, 
She sat, like patience on a monument, 
Smiling at grief. 

Shakespeare's opportunity of seeing pictures had 
been very limited. In fact, I am sure that he was 
not thinking of pictures when he described melan- 
choly as ^' green and yellow." Either he had an 
instinctive dislike of this combination that probably 
he could not have explained ; simply he felt it to be 
disagreeable; or he may have associated it in his 
imagination with something he had observed. Per- 
haps for instance, since he speaks in the next line 
of a " monument/' he may have been thinking of 
the green and yellow stains on old tombstones, so 
that " green and yellow " suggested to him the very 
opposite of ^' damask cheek " with its rosiness of 
healthy life ; in fact the signs of wasting and decay. 
Anyhow, to Shakespeare's imagination these colors 
represented something disagreeable. That is the 
point. Colors, like sounds, may excite feelings of 
distress or pleasure. 

And, if single notes may give pleasure, how much 
more a number of them. It is when a number of 
them are combined into a composition that a har- 
mony is produced. The musician creates a harmony 
of sound, the painter a harmony of color. The se- 
cret of a harmony is the relation, that the separate 
notes of sound or color in it bear to one another. 



If I try to explain this, it is not because I wish to 
tell you how to make a color harmony, but because 
I hope the explanation may help you to enjoy it. 
Perhaps we may get an idea of what relation means 
if we think of a football team. It consists of a num- 
ber of individuals with separate duties. Some play 
forward, others half-back, quarter-back, and so on. 
When each member not only does his own work as 
well as possible but plays well into the hands of the 
other members, we speak of the excellence of the 
team work. And in nine cases out of ten it is not 
brilliant individual play, but fine all-round team- 
work that wins the game. The different members 
are so well related to one another, that the whole 
team works harmoniously. 

It is similar in a harmony of colors. For perhaps 
you see that what I wish you to understand is not 
that a few bright colors make a harmony, but that 
it is the result of a combination. There must be 
team-work among the colors. They count as in- 
dividual spots of color, but still more in relation to 
all the other colors. There may be one or more 
crack players — I mean predominant ^ notes of color, 
— but they will have colleagues or assistants — colors 
of the same hue but differing in degree — which will 
repeat or echo their effect, with variations all over 
the canvas. These subordinate colors and the crack 
ones will play in and out, backing one another up, 
and, as it were, passing the ball backward and for- 
ward into one another's hands; acting in such exact 
» Showing a mastery over others. 

A Guide to Pictures 

relation to one another, that their efforts result in 
a perfect harmony of effect. 

But so far we have been thinking only of one 
team, working out its scheme of attack and defense 
in practice play. There is a more complicated play, 
namely, when the team is pitted against a rival 
team. So in color. An artist will introduce rivalry, 
or competition into his color scheme; namely, two 
crack notes of color that, seen by themselves, would 
produce a disagreeable sensation. Why does he do 
so ? Because he knows the value of contrast and dis- 
cord; just as you know it is more fun to watch a 
game of football between two well-matched rival 
teams than the merely practice play of one of them. 
For now the artist is pitting one set of colors against 
another set; the crack players on both sides and 
their backers-up — the colors of different but closely 
related hue ; and the game between them is fast and 
furious — an interplay of likes and unlikes, of repe- 
titions and of contrasts. The excitement of the 
game results from the even balance of the two rival 
sets of colors, swaying backward and forward over 
the gridiron — I mean the canvas — massing here and 
there, then scattering in a burst of animation — the 
two teams so evenly matched that their rivalry only 
makes the give and take of the game more brilliantly 

Such, in a way, is the harmony of color, as it ap- 
pears in the pictures of a true colorist. It has a 
focal point of intensity where the effect is massed, 
but all about it^ scattered over the canvas, is the in- 



terplay of related similarities and contrasts, all of 
which combine into a harmonious whole. 

It may help jou, as it has helped me, to under- 
stand the combination of these numberless repeti- 
tions and contrasts of color, if I tell you of an ex- 
perience of sound that I remember. I was one of 
a party walking in the Swiss mountains, and at a 
turn in the path we came upon a man, sitting with 
a gun across his knees. For a small amount this 
mountaineer was prepared to let off his gun. We 
paid, he fired. There was a sharp report — a focal 
point of sound — then a neighboring mountain side 
sent back an echo, which was caught by another that 
sent it back, whence again it was re-echoed from 
another mountain peak, and so on, back and forth, 
until in a moment or two, the whole mountain 
world resouiaded with a wondrous roar. From a 
single note of sound, which made a very slight im- 
pression had grown a multiplication of slightly dif- 
fering sounds. For the first echo was slightly dif- 
ferent to the original note, and then again the echo 
of this echo differed slightly, so too the echo that 
came next and the one that followed that, and so 
on through a scale of slightly varying tones, that 
finally merged into one huge swell of throbbing 
sound, as of some mighty organ music — a harmony 
of tumult. It was a wonderful sensation, and has 
helped me to realise the wonder of color harmony. 
For an artist generally founds his color scheme 
upon one or two notes of color, and then by repre- 
senting the echoes of these colors, as they are re- 


A Guide to Pictures 

fleeted at different angles from the various planes 
of surface, gradually elaborates or works out a maze 
of related colors that merge into a harmony. 

On the other hand it is not only by painting the 
interplay of reflections that an artist produces a har- 
mony of color. There is a less complicated way, 
represented in Japanese prints and paintings, and in 
the work done by some of our artists who have 
adopted their method. In this case the color is flat ; 
the objects, that is to say, are not modeled by lights 
and darks. The form, instead of being actually 
represented is only suggested. Consequently there 
are no reflections and the colors are laid on flatly 
and smoothly. But they are most carefully related 
to one another; both in quantity and tint. The ar- 
tist, for example, may use only rose and lavender and 
black. But his sense of color is first shoT\Ti in his 
choice of the particular tints of rose and lavender and 
black, and then secondly, in his distribution of these 
on the white paper. Perhaps he determines to make 
the black his crack player. But he wishes to produce 
a balance of harmony of all his colors, so he carefully 
considers how large a space the chief spot of black 
shall occupy, and then what quantity of the remain- 
ing spaces shall be occupied by the rose and lavender 
and the white paper. Having thus worked out the 
ground plan of the scheme, he may elaborate it by 
repeating some of the black in other parts of the 
picture, and by introducing echoes of the rose and 
lavender in the large spot of black. The echoes, in 
this case, you observe, are not reflections, they are 



simply repetitions in smaller quantities of the colors 
of the main spots. His composition, in fact, is a 
pattern of main spots, and their echoes; the whole 
presenting a unity and harmony because the colors 
are in exact relation. 

And when this has been done either in a simple 
harmony or a more elaborate one, with the true feel- 
ing of a colorist, no alteration can be made in any 
part of the picture without producing a discord, de- 
stroying, that is to say, the exquisite balance of the 
whole. I mean, that if, for instance, you were to 
cut off a part of the picture in order to make it fill 
a frame, you would destroy the harmony of the 
whole. For now the relation of the colors will have 
been disturbed. There is no longer the same balance 
in the quantity of each, nor do they occupy the same 
related position in the composition. 

In a word, as we said above, the secret of color 
harmony is the relation of the separate colors to 
one another and the whole. 




SO far in our talk on color we have laid stress on 
three points: first, that color is light; sec- 
ondly, that color is affected by light; thirdly, that 
the painter who is a colorist arranges color in rela- 
tion to other colors, so as to produce a harmony. 

The reason was, that I wished you not to think of 
color as paint. Paints, or as artists call them, pig- 
ments, are only the materials that man has invented 
to imitate the real thing. The real thing is nature's 
color. Pigments we will speak of later. 

Prom early ages man has been attracted by na- 
ture's colors and has tried to imitate them in order 
to brighten up his own person and his surroundings. 
He began by smearing his own body with some form 
of dye or pigment, either to make himself more at- 
tractive or to strike terror into his enemies. As he 
became more civilised and learned to weave wool 
and cotton and flax, he dyed his blankets and cloth- 
ing, and added gay borders and patterns to the local 
color. Growing more skilful in the fashioning of 
clay pots, and bows and arrows, and other articles 
of war and domestic use, he decorated them with col- 
ored designs. Little by little he learned how to imi- 


Color — Values — Subtlety 

tate the beauty of nature's coloring. But, at first, 
it seems to have been the brightness of color that 
attracted him ; just as to-day, a great many children 
and, for that matter, grown-ups as well, prefer gay 
colors. Manufacturers and merchants know this. 
Accordingly, to suit the taste of a great many cus- 
tomers who still have the primitive child-man's love 
of gay-colored things, they fill the markets with 
gaudy-colored carpets and wall-papers, and gaudily 
upholstered furniture, gaudy curtains, cushions and 
so forth. And people buy them, so that thousands 
of households are furnished in a way that to any 
one who love's nature's coloring, seems horrible. 
Yes, this is a strong word. But if you will believe 
me, not too strong to express the feelings of distress 
that such parlors excite in people whose taste is more 
civilised. They are as much distressed, as if the 
parlor were filled with roosters, parrots and mon- 
keys, all crowing, and screeching and chattering to- 
gether in a horrible discord of sound. 

Perhaps you do not like my hinting that people 
who prefer these noisy colors are not yet fully civil- 
ised. You have been taught that we are living in 
a very civilised age, with all sorts of modern im- 
provements that the people of the past never thought 
of, much less enjoyed. This of course is perfectly 
true. Science and mechanical inventions have made 
living easier; travel is cheaper, education has ad- 
vanced, books are within the reach of everybody 
and, best of all, we have more pity for the poor, 
and the sick and the afflicted, and try to make their 


A Guide to Pictures 

lot less terrible. Yes, and in thousands of other 
ways we are more civilised. Yet, even so, we may 
be far from enjoying all the opportunities of civili- 
sation that this wonderful age offers. 

How many girls and boys, I wonder, who have 
enjoyed the benefits of a good education, when they 
reach the age in which they can choose for them- 
selves what they will read, select the best books ? I 
mean by the best books, those that in history, poetry, 
biography, travel, science, and fiction, really give 
us the best kind of knowledge of men and life. Are 
there not thousands of readers who are satisfied to 
read nothing else but the latest novel, no matter how 
trashy it may be ? Thousands, indeed, who are not 
bettering their minds and lives, as really civilised 
people should try to do; but allowing the garden 
of their hearts and souls to become laid waste 
and barren, just as your flower garden would 
soon be, if you turned loose in it the poultry and 
the pigs. 

The truth with such readers is, that, though they 
enjoy the blessings of civilisation, they have missed 
one of civilisation's finest products. They have not 
good taste, their taste is had. And bad taste is like 
a poison. If it is allowed to remain in the system 
it will in time affect the whole body. None of us 
can make a habit of reading trash vdthout sooner 
or later becoming trashy and cheap and common- 
place in our thoughts, conversation, choice of friends 
and conduct. 

However, as you are reading this book, I hope it 


Color — Values — Subtlety 

is a sign that jou do not care for trashy reading. 
So let us get back to the subject of taste in matters 
of color. If one looks back over the past, there is 
no doubt that as people became more civilised, one 
of the ways in which they showed improvement was 
in color taste. They gradually ceased to be attract- 
ed only by the brightness of color; they began to 
find beauty in the relation of one color to another; 
to try to produce a harmony of colors. 

I wonder whether, as you have been reading, it has 
occurred to you to think: Why does the author ob- 
ject to bright colors ? He says we learn to love 
color by studying nature's coloring. Are there not 
bright colors in nature ? Is it wrong to like them ? 

Certainly not ; nor do I object to bright colors. 
I am often delighted with them. But, in the first 
place, bright colors do not look the same in nature 
as they do in a parlor. Secondly, art, as we have 
said before, is different to nature. The artist does 
not imitate everything he sees in nature, but from 
it selects this and that to make his work of art. 

!N^othing in our garden makes a brighter spot 
than the giant poppy. Its wide and flaring crimson 
cup, stained with the purple of its stamens, burns 
like a flame. I love the brave show poppies make, 
ranged at intervals along the borders or massed in 
a clump with a setting of greenery around them. 
For, to prevent their brilliance overpowering the 
garden, they need plenty of space and abundance of 
contrasting colors. I cannot imagine anything more 
noisy and gaudy than a little yard entirely filled 


A Guide to Pictures 

with them. The reason they need space is that they 
may be surrounded with plenty of atmosphere. It 
is this which makes so great a difference between 
effects of color out of doors and indoors. Out of 
doors the atmosphere acts like a veil, softening the 
sharpness of colors and forms and helping to draw 
them together into a unity of effect. It is indeed, 
more like a succession of veils, for between us and 
nearby objects is a certain amount of atmosphere; 
while objects further off, and still further off, and 
further off still, are separated from us by con- 
tinually increasing quantities of atmosphere. And 
these planes of atmosphere, as we called them in 
Chapter IV, act like veils of gauze through which 
everything is seen. As I have said, they help to 
subdue the colors and draw them into relation with 
one another, and so suggest an effect of harmony. 
In a room, however, especially a small one, we can- 
not get far enough away from objects to permit 
much atmosphere to come in between. There is not 
so much distance to lend enchantment to the view. 
Consequently, though we may enjoy the beauty of 
a few of those poppies in a bowl on our table, we 
should find a carpet or curtains or sofa of the same 
color much too gaudy and overpowering. The ef- 
fect would be much as if, while the piano was being 
played, someone should blow loudly on a tin horn. 
The noise would disturb the harmony of the music ; 
we should shut our ears or turn the tin horn dis- 
turber out of the room. So when we enter a gaudily 
furnished room, we should like to shut our eyes to 


Color — Values — Subtlety 

the discord of color^ and, if we had our way, would 
banish the disturbing objects to the junk-shop. 

But now for the second reason why some of na- 
ture's colors^ beautiful in themselves, may be less 
so when introduced into a room or picture. For 
the furnishing of a room, like the composing of a 
picture, should, as far as possible, be a work of art, 
and the artist, as you recollect, does not imitate na- 
ture. He selects from nature. Out of her unlim- 
ited storehouse of form and color he chooses for his 
purpose some few effects at a time and combines 
them in his work of art; guided in his choice and 
arrangement by the principles of beauty he has dis- 
covered in nature, particularly by the principle of 
harmony. And in this respect he has an advantage 
over nature. For the light and atmosphere cannot 
choose the colors and objects which they help to 
harmonise. Even after they have done their best, 
there may be so many of those poppies that, while 
their colors are subdued and brought into some re- 
lation with the other colors^ the relationship is still 
too distant — ^the difference between the two colors 
too wide — to produce a perfect harmony. But the 
artist, since he can pick and choose what he will 
put into his picture, is able to avoid this difficulty; 
just as a young couple when they start housekeep- 
ing can generally avoid having things that will dis- 
turb the harmonious arrangement of their parlor. I 
say ^' generally," for sometimes, notwithstanding 
their own taste, they receive from some kind but 
tasteless friend, the present of a piece of furniture 


A Guide to Pictures 

that plays the tin-horn to all their ideas of harmony. 
This is a hard case. They do not wish to offend 
Mrs. So-and-so or Aunt Jane, and yet they do not 
like having to live with something offensive to their 
own feelings ! 

We have said so much about the artist working 
for a harmony of colors^ that I ought to warn you 
that you will not see color harmonies in all pictures. 
For a great many painters are not colorists. Bou- 
guereau, for example, was interested chiefly in form. 
If he represented a young girl, drawing water from 
a well, he painted her flesh pink ; her dress, per- 
haps, blue; the stone-work of the wall, gray; the 
wood work of the bucket^ brown ; and, if there was a 
bush in the picture, of course, painted it green. His 
only purpose in choosing this color or that color was 
to represent the general appearances of the figure and 
other objects. He only saw color, never felt it. He 
never even saw it, as it really is ; or he would hardly 
have painted all his girls and women the same kind 
of pinky or creamy china-color. In fact, color to 
him was quite unimportant. If he could draw the 
girl beautifully he was satisfied. So it is beautiful 
form we must look for in his pictures; the color 
does not count. 

Then there is another kind of painter ; Vibert, for 
example, whose pictures were popular in this coun- 
try. He liked to paint a cardinal in a scarlet cas- 
sock, either in or out of doors. The scarlet makes 
a big bright spot in the pictures. Vibert was evi- 
dently fond of color; but in a very crude or unre- 


Color — Values — Subtlety 

fined sort of way. He had the primitive man's or 
child's fondness for gay or brilliant hues ; and since 
there are many people with the same child-like in- 
stinct, he sold his pictures easily. He too, for the 
most part only saw color. Or, if he felt it at all, 
only in the very simple way of liking one color 
better than another. Color never stirred in him deep 
feelings. He never felt it as a musician feels sound. 
He never wove the related colors into a harmony. 
He was a gay painter, but not a colorist. 

I wonder whether you are beginning to under- 
stand the difference ? What I have said may help 
to point the way to an understanding, but no amount 
of reading can make you feel the beauty of color, 
or enter into the feelings of an artist who is a color- 
ist; and enjoy his work. This you can only do for 
yourself by using your own eyes. Nor do I mean 
by this that you should now and then look at a pic- 
ture, or once in a while open your eyes to the beauty 
of nature. What I suggest is that you should get 
into the habit of keeping your eyes open to the 
beauty of the world. If you do, you will have your 
reward. And the more you watch out for beauty, 
and so train your feeling and taste, the more you 
will discover beauty in unexpected directions. Espe- 
cially you will find that some of the most beautiful 
color harmonies are made up of colors, that a little 
while ago you would not have felt to be beautiful. 

It is not difficult, for example, to enjoy the beauty 
of nature's coloring when the sun is shining brightly. 
But, because it is so easy, some painters who are 


A Guide to Pictures 

colorists will not care to represent it in their pic- 
tures. They will wait for what they call a gray 
day — when the sun is hidden behind clouds of mist. 
Or, like Corot^ they will prefer the early morning 
or late evening, when the sky is very pale, and the 
colors of nature are very subdued. Or, like Whis- 
tler, who painted The White Girl, a girl in white, 
standing on a white rug in front af a white wall, 
they will choose some subject in which the differ- 
ence between the colors is very slight. In a word 
they are looking, not for splendid but for subtle 
harmonies. Those grand Venetian colorists of the 
Sixteenth Century, Titian, Tintoretto, and Paul 
Veronese, and the great Flemish colorist of the 
Seventeenth Century, Peter Paul Pubens, for - the 
most part gloried in harmonies of splendour, 
Velasquez, however, Pubens's contemporary, whose 
life was spent in the service of Philip IV of Spain, 
proved himself to be one of the world's greatest 
colorists by the soberness and subtlety of his har- 
monies. A large part of his work consisted in paint- 
ing the portraits of the King, the Royal Family, 
and the chief State officers. The taste of the Court 
was opposed to bright colored costumes; indeed the 
prevailing colors were black and gray, with occa- 
sional touches of relief, such as blue or pale rose. 
Yet out of these few colors he made wonderful har- 
monies. To his sensitive eye a black cloak was not 
a mass of thick darkness. As the light shone upon 
the various surfaces at different angles, he discov- 
ered all sorts of nuances, as the French say, or 


Prince Balthazar Carlos. Velasquez. 

Color — Values — Subtlety 

shades and degrees of lighter and darker black, in 
fact, a scale of tints out of which he composed a 
harmony. It was the same way with the grays and 
drabs. We often call these neutral colors, by which 
we mean that there is no particular color in them. 
But Velasquez did not look at grays and drabs in 
this way. Having to paint them he searched them 
for possibilities of beauty, and found them in the 
nuances, occasioned by the action of light. And out 
of the scale of these nuances he composed harmonies. 

To these nuances artists have given a name — 
values. We know the ordinary use of the word. It 
represents the relation of something to a certain 
fixed standard. Thus, we take a dollar as a stand- 
ard ; and say the value of this knife is fifty cents, or 
of that two dollars. These knives differ in value ; or, 
on the other hand, we may have two or more knives 
that correspond in value. Or, again, if some of you 
are arranging a picnic as a Dutch treat, one of the 
party may undertake to bring ten cents' worth of 
eggs, another ten cents' worth of crackers, and so 
on. Though every one of twenty boys and girls 
brings something different, the value of each contri- 
bution is the same. 

^Now applying this to colors, you may see that 
the point to which I am leading you is this. Just 
as the knife varies in value from other knives, so 
may one tint of black vary from another tint of 
black ; one tint of red from another tint of red ; one 
tint of yellow from another tint of yellow. Equally, 
since a certain quantity of crackers may have the 


A Guide to Pictures 

same value as a certain quantity of cheese, so may 
a certain tint of red have the same value as a cer- 
tain tint of yellow. But what is the standard by 
which one kind of color can be compared with an- 
other ? 

The standard of value adopted by a painter, is 
light. The value of any color depends upon the 
amount of light reflected from it. Thus, if you look 
at a man dressed in black, you will notice that the 
black upon the shoulder, or the chest, or whatever 
part receives the greatest quantity of light, will seem 
less black than those parts which receive less light. 
And it may be only in the hollows or shaded parts 
that the black looks really black. Well, each one 
of these separate degrees of black represents to the 
painter a separate value of black. 

Perhaps you will say — Why this is only a repe- 
tition of what was said about the painting of reflec- 
tions of light and the shadows on the blue skirt ! 
You are right. Then — why, you ask, this new term 
— values? Well, it was when the modern man dis- 
covered that the painting of these reflections and 
shadows could be made a means of producing har- 
monies of color; that, indeed, harmonies could be 
produced out of the reflections alone, that they in- 
vented this new name. They had discovered a new 
principle of harmony, depending upon the varieties 
of light on color, and they gave to these varieties 
the new name of values. ]^ot that the principle was 
really a new one. It was an old one discovered by 
Velasquez and at the same time by the Dutch — Ver- 


Color — Values — Subtlety 

meer among them.^ But about 1860 some modern 
artists from studying the works of these men made 
a new discovery of the principle. 

Before discussing the importance of the rediscov- 
ery, let us turn back to the other use of that word 
values. If you remember, the word is used not only 
of the differences in degree in tint of some one 
color; for example, the different values of black, of 
green, of red and so on, but it is also used as a 
standard to compare a color of one hue with a color 
of another hue. Let me remind you of that Dutch 
treat picnic to which everybody brought a contribu- 
tion of equal value. I need not tell you that the ten 
cents' worth of soda crackers will make a bigger 
parcel than the ten cents' worth of cheese, while ten 

cents' worth of 's " fine chocolate " would make 

a very small parcel indeed. !N^ow, colors differ in 
the same way. All colors throw off a certain quan- 
tity of light, but the amount varies. 

You remember, we said that the cause of color 
was the fact, that light which is made up of all 
colors penetrates every object in nature ; that each 
object absorbs a certain quantity of the color and 
throws off the remainder. And that this remainder 
is what appears to our eyes as the color of the object. 
But while we think of this remainder as color, do 
not let us forget that it is light. And, recollecting 
that color is light, we can understand that one color 
has more or less light in it than another. 

• Turn back to his picture and see how all this that we are 
now discussing is there illustrated. 


A Guide to Pictures 

I wish to make sure that jou do understand this, 
so let us try to illustrate it. We are in the habit of 
estimating things by percentage. Suppose then that 
we think of the light of the sun as representing one 
hundred points. Scientists have discovered that ob- 
jects which we call yellow absorb only some twenty 
of these points; that, in fact, the quantity of light 
thrown off by what we call yellow, or in other words 
its value, is some eighty per cent. What we call 
red, however, represents some sixty per cent, of 
light; green, about forty per cent. 

^ow supposing an artist wishes to combine these 
colors in a Dutch picnic; if he wishes, that is to 
say, to combine these colors^ so that they will con- 
tribute equally to the whole composition of color. 
He will use a great deal less yellow than red, and 
less of either of these colors than green. The packet 
of green, like the crackers, will be bigger than the 
cheese, or red; the yellow, or chocolate, smallest of 

Let us imagine a picture that will illustrate this. 
But before we do so I must remind you that what 
we are talking about is color harmonies, and par- 
ticularly those harmonies of color in which the 
modern artist delights. He learned them, as I have 
said, from Velasquez, who was debarred from using 
brilliant colors, he learned them also from the old 
pictures of the Dutchmen, like Vermeer; lastly he 
learned them from studying the pictures and prints 
of the Japanese. The effect of all these examples 
was to make him prefer subtlety to splendour. 


Color — Values — Subtletj 

I have already explained the meaning of subtlety 
and subtle. Both are derived from a Latin word 
which means ^' finely woven " — fine spun threads of 
silk or linen, woven closely together into a strong 
but very delicate and thin fabric. So when we 
speak of a subtle distinction we have in mind a dis- 
tinction that is very slight; as between two tints of 
yellow. To many eyes they will seem the same; 
whereas an eye more subtly sensitive to degrees of 
color can distinguish the difference. We may say 
of such an eye, that it has a very delicate sense of 
sight, or subtlety of vision. Subtlety implies deli- 
cacy; and when we speak of the subtlety of an ar- 
tist's color harmonies — how subtle they are — we 
have in mind a delicate, exquisite, refined use of 
color. He has not used many colors; nor obtained 
his effects by force of strong contrasts. On the con- 
trary, it is by subtle relation of a few colors, by 
the subtle differences in their values that a har- 
mony, distinguished by its exquisite delicacy, is pro- 

Our own American artist, the late James MclSTeill 
Whistler, was one of the first of the modern artists 
to paint this sort of harmony. He painted four 
pictures of a girl in a white dress, which he after- 
wards entitled " Symphonies in White," numbering 
them one, two, three, and four, just as a musician's 
works are distinguished by a number. For Whistler 
felt that there is some similarity between the har- 
monies of color and those of sound notes, and tried 
in his pictures to produce subtle effects as musicians 


A Guide to Pictures 

do. In one of this series he represents the girl in 
a white dress, standing on a white rug, before a 
white wall. The only variation from the white is 
afforded by her dark hair and the flesh coloring of 
her face and hands. These are what we may call 
" accents " — notes of color that stand out with prom- 
inence and decision. The rest is a symphony in 

He might have made his problem easier by throw- 
ing a strong light upon the figure from one side. 
This would have made some parts of the dress shine 
out with the brightness of very high lights, and 
would have caused the figure to cast a shadow on 
the wall. This would have produced a harmony of 
contrasts; a bold contrast of color values, easier to 
paint. But Whistler was intent on something very 
subtle — a harmony of similarities. So he placed the 
figure in a dull light, that was evenly distributed 
over the rug, the figure, and the wall, with the re- 
sult that the distinctions between the color values 
were very slight, very subtle. This means that it 
was difficult to make the different masses of white 
distinct from one another. The artist, you see, had 
to make it appear that the girl's white figure was 
nearer to us than the white wall; to make us feel 
that, while the wall is flat, the figure has roundness 
and bulk; and that, while the wall is an upright 
surface, the rug represents a horizontal one. Yes it 
was indeed a very difficult problem, because the only 
possible way of solving it was to render the very 
slight differences in the quantity of light, reflected 


Color — Values — Subtlety 

from each and every part of the white surfaces, ac- 
cording to the angle at which the light reached any 
part, and the distance each part was from the eye 
of the artist. And no doubt the keen mind of Whis- 
tler was interested in the subtlety of the problem. 
But this was not all. His feeling as an artist was 
equally subtle. It delighted in the subtleties of 
color values. 

However, he also enjoyed effects of brighter color. 
I have asked you to imagine this picture of Whis- 
tler's because it illustrates the first meaning of 
" values " — namely the different quantities of light 
that may be contained in one and the same color. 
I wish to illustrate now the other meaning of 
" values " — which has to do with the quantity of 
light contained in one color as compared with that 
in another color; for example, with the percentage 
of light contained in red as compared with that con- 
tained in blue, or green, or white, or any other 
color. For this purpose I have chosen the second in 
Whistler's series of symphonies in white: The Little 
White Girl. You can look at the reproduction and 
see for yourself that part of the color scheme, or 
color harmony, certainly the most important part, 
consists of the figure of the girl in white. You will 
notice how it illustrates what we have been saying 
about the other white girl. It is evenly lighted, 
there are no contrasts of extreme light and dark ; the 
dress is a woven tissue of subtly different values of 
white. But in this case Whistler has treated the 
white dress as the theme or chief motive, as a musi- 


A Guide to Pictures 

cian would say, and has woven around it a composi- 
tion of variations. It is the variations that I wish 
you now particularly to notice. They may be put 
under two heads. Eirst^ the reflection of the girl's 
head in the mirror; second, the various spots of 
color that surround her. 

Suppose we begin with the latter. On the mantel- 
shelf, close to the flesh-color of the girl's hand and 
the white of her sleeve is a Japanese jar, decorated 
in white and blue, and beside it a Japanese box 
covered with that smooth shiny surface called lac- 
quer, and of a scarlet color, like a geranium. Down 
below appear the sprays of camelias with dark green 
glossy leaves and white and rosy blossoms. The fan 
repeats these colors, but with a difference. There 
is red in it, but of a different value to the red of 
the box and flowers; blue, but of another value 
than that on the vase; green, which differs in value 
from the leaves. Secondly, in the mirror is a repe- 
tition of the girl's head and of certain colors in the 
room. But the reflected head, as you can see in the 
reproduction, is in a lower key than the real one. 
The colors are lower in value ; there is not so much 
light in them; for the mirror has absorbed some of 
it. You may test a mirror's appetite for light by 
holding your handkerchief close to it. You will see 
that the white of the reflection is much greyer than 
the handkerchief, or according to the quality of the 
glass, it may seem slightly blue. At any rate its 
value will be lower than that of the handkerchief; 
just as in this picture, the reflected colors of the 



The Little White Girl. J. M. Whistler. 


.«.--«! I 

Color — Values — Subtlety 

flesh and hair are lower in value than the actual 

Now, looking at the picture, we note that the fig- 
ure occupies about one half of the composition. It 
illustrates, as did The Sower , the use of a main 
diagonal line, though the feeling suggested by it is 
different. In The Sower, you will remember, the 
diagonal helped to give vigor and alertness to the 
figure; while here, on the contrary, its suggestion 
is one of very gracious quiet. For the slope of this 
diagonal is not so steep as in the other picture ; nor 
do the directions of the arms and head present such 
abrupt contrasts. The left arm it is true, is nearly 
at right angles — itself a strong contrast; but it is so 
quietly laid along the mantel-shelf, which supports 
its weight, that there is no suggestion of effort. 
Meanwhile, the other arm, hanging so easily, is al- 
most parallel to the main diagonal. The line also 
of the neck gently carries on the lines of the shoul- 
ders, and, as the head is slightly tilted back, its 
downward pressure is supported by the shoulder that 
rests on the shelf. The whole suggestion of the fig- 
ure, in fact, is one of rest. There is no conscious 
bodily effort to interfere with the reverie in which 
the girl's mind is wrapt. She may be buried in her 
thoughts or she may be absorbed in the beauty of 
the box and vase, at which she seems to be looking. 
" Seems," I say, for it is difficult to be sure that she 
is conscious of them. Her gaze seems fixed to a far 
vision, as if she had begun by looking at these ob- 
jects, and then, as her thoughts passed beyond them, 


A Guide to Pictures 

had let the gaze of her eyes follow. She seems 
huried in some girlish reverie, wrapt " in maiden 
meditation, fancy free." To me it is a very lovely 
figure not because of the features of the face — 
opinions may differ about the face being beautiful 
in the ordinary sense of having beautiful features. 
Its beauty to me lies in its expression; in its ex- 
pression of some lovely mood of a girl's spirit. And 
I find the figure beautiful, because all through it is 
the movement of the same expression. This must 
have been in Whistler's mind when he painted her. 
But he was conscious, perhaps, of another side of 
her nature; that she had moods of brightness as 
well. At any rate he chose to contrast with the 
pensive calm of the girl herself the bright animated 
spots of color that surround her. 

These spots of color, if you examine the picture 
carefully, really play the part of the shadows in the 
chiaroscuro of old pictures. Chiaroscuro, you re- 
member, is the pattern of light and dark. Here the 
red box and the blue of the vase and the green and 
rose, of the camelias, yes, and even the face in the 
mirror, the marble shelf and fireplace — all repre- 
sent the dark spots. But not dark in the old way 
of being shadows. They are dark as compared with 
the white of the dress^ because their colors reflect 
less light than the white; their values are lower. 
Thus they serve the purposes of a dark contrast and 
yet they themselves are very light. This, in a nut- 
shell, is what the new study of values, that was 
learnt from Velasquez and from Vermeer, and the 


Color — Values — Subtlety 

other Dutchmen, really means. It has enabled the 
artist to be even more true to life in the representa- 
tion of objects, and at the same time to make his 
color-harmonies purer, clearer and more transparent; 
in one word, luminous; permeated, that is to say, 
with a suggestion of light, that in nature permeates 
the atmosphere and brings all objects into an ap- 
pearance of harmonious unity. 

How this particular picture is helped by a con- 
trast, not of the old fashioned dark and light, as in 
the Descent from the Cross but of values of color, 
you can see for yourself, even from the reproduc- 
tion. Still more would you realize it could you see 
the freshness and purity and gladsomeness of the 
original. Contrasts are needful in the composition 
of a work of art — they are one of the sources of its 
beauty. But imagine if you can, having shadows 
and darkness brought into contrast with this white 
robed figure ! How they would contradict the ex- 
pression of its exquisite purity and loveliness! As 
it is, the contrast of lower values does not in the 
least jar upon the expression; on the contrary, it 
gives it a greater meaning, since it suggests the at- 
mosphere of happiness and brightness that has helped 
to color the beauty of the girl's spirit. 




I!N our previous talk about color we have laid 
great stress on the relation of one color to an- 
other. We have not thought of red, for example, 
as beautiful by itself, but as one of a family of 
colors, whose beauty consists in their relation to one 
another. And this related beauty we have spoken 
of as color harmony. 

" Behold how good and joyful a thing it is, 
brethren, to dwell together in unity." So said the 
Psalmist, and his words might be applied to the 
unity of colors. He did not mean that everybody 
shall be of a like mind; there will always be differ- 
ences of character among relations and the best of 
friends ; but they will agree to differ ; and their very 
differences make their unity or harmony the more 
real and good. Such is the harmony among colors; 
a union of differences or contrasts, as well as of 
similarities; of variety of values of color related 
into a harmonious unity. 

On the other hand, though the beauty of colors is 
chiefly to be found in their relations to one an- 
other, there are separate possibilities of beauty to 
each color. And if each displays its own share of 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

these the general beauty of the harmony will be in- 
creased. Some of the possibilities are texture, qual- 
ity, and tone. 

Texture first. It is derived from the Latin word, 
textum, — something woven. Texture, in its original 
meaning, represents what has been produced by 
weaving. A lady, when she is shopping, presses the 
linen or silk, or cotton goods between her fingers in 
order to judge of their texture ; whether it is closely 
or loosely woven, whether it is hard or smooth to the 
touch. Secondly, the word is used of a thing made 
by any other means than weaving. We speak, for 
example, of the texture of paper; and judge of its 
texture by the feel of it. Thirdly, it has come 
to be used of any material, whether made by 
man or nature. Thus we say that oak has a very 
close texture; glass is of firm but brittle texture; 
butter is greasy in texture, and so on. Finally, the 
word is used in a very general way to describe the 
character of any substance, especially the kind of 
surface that it has. So we say of the flesh of a 
healthy baby, that its texture is firm and silky ; and 
we speak of the glossy texture of a polished table ; 
the downy texture of a young chicken's breast, or 
the velvety texture of a peach. In one word, texture 
is the quality of a thing that we discover by touch- 
ing it. 

Texture appeals to our sense of touch. It ex- 
cites in us a variety of feelings, pleasant or unpleas- 
ant. I need not tell you how disagreeable the tex- 
ture of sharp rocks may be to your bare feet, when 


A Guide to Pictures 

you are bathing; what a relief it is to them to feel 
the texture of sand. Some of you, I am sure, are 
conscious of the pleasure you derive from handling 
things. You have discovered for yourselves what 
a lot of feeling you have in the tips of your fingers. 
You would enjoy handling the red box in Whistler's 
picture: and your touch would be very careful and 
delicate. ITot alone because the box is valuable, but 
because it is only with a delicate touch that you can 
appreciate the exquisite smoothness of the lacquer. 
The latter is a varnish composed of the gum of a 
certain tree. The Japanese workman lays it over 
the box very thinly, and, when it is thoroughly 
dried, rubs the surface until it is perfectly smooth. 
Then he applies another coating of lacquer and 
again rubs, continuing the process several times, 
until at last, the surface shows not a single flaw or 
inequality, and is smooth and silky beyond the 
/ description of any words. It is only by the look of 

it, and still more, by the feel of it, that you can ap- 
preciate the exquisite finish of the surface; and 
your delight in it is mingled with almost a rever- 
ence for the patience and love of the craftsman, who 
could work so long and so faithfully to make this 
little work of art perfect in its beauty and beautiful 
in its perfection. Compared with this lacquer box, 
the texture of an ordinary polished table or piano 
seems coarse and commonplace. 

I might go on to speak of the different kinds of 
sensation that you would enjoy if you touched the 
waxy petals of the camelia. But it is not necessary. 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

For if you have a joy in the sense of touch I need 
not try to tell you about it. I will only ask you to 
wait a few minutes, until we see how the enjoyment 
derived from texture enters into the appreciation of 
a picture. 

Meanwhile, if any of you have not as yet been 
conscious of getting this sort of pleasure through 
your fingers, let me say that this does not prove 
that you have no feeling for textures. I think that 
you have had it unconsciously ; for I suspect that the 
pleasure that you take in flowers is not only because 
of their shape and color. As you have examined 
the beauty of roses, the texture of their petals has 
not escaped you. In one case, how silky ; in another, 
how softly crumpled; in another, how delicately 
waxen! You may never have put these ideas into 
words, or even been conscious of them; but do you 
not see, now I mention these textures, that they 
have had a good deal to do with your pleasure in 
the roses ? It may be, after all, the difference in 
the texture that makes you prefer one rose to an- 

However, whether this be so or not, the fact re- 
mains that a great number of people derive pleasure 
from the textures of objects. So let us now see how 
the artist, who, as I have said before, has instincts 
and feelings like our own, takes advantage of this 
feeling for texture to add to the beauty of his pic- 

We shall often see a picture in which the textures 
are not represented. Even modern pictures some- 


A Guide to Pictures 

times fail in this respect; and it is a very common 
fault with early American pictures, painted by ar- 
tists who had not the advantage of training that the 
modern student enjoys. I will quote the case of 
John Singleton Copley, a very famous painter of the 
Colonial Period, who lived in Boston and made 
portraits of the well-to-do men and women of the 
time, just preceding the Revolution. Before the 
latter broke out, he went to England, where he spent 
the rest of his life and was highly thought of. His 
portraits are handsome as pictures for they repre- 
sent men and women, mostly of elegant manners in 
handsome clothes. They also give the impression of 
being good likenesses. Yet his pictures lack anima- 
tion. The figures and the costumes are stiff and 
hard. This is partly due to there being no sugges- 
tion of atmosphere surrounding them. The picture 
is not filled with air and light, as we found Ver- 
meer's was. But there is another reason. Copley 
was unskilful in the presentation of textures. 

The flesh and hair, the materials of the costumes, 
the furniture and ornaments, present no differences 
of texture. All seem to have a uniformly hard sur- 
face, as if they were made of wood or tin. The re- 
sult is that the whole picture seems hard and stiff — 
lacking in animation. If you ask me why this lack 
of animation is caused by the artist's neglect of 
textures, I think the answer is that Copley has not 
given to everything in his picture its own separate, 
particular character. For when you come to think 
of it, — and the dictionary meaning of the word 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

textures, bears me out — the character of everything 
depends so much upon its texture; whether it is 
hard or soft, smooth or rough, glossy or dull, and 
so on. N^ow, if there were a number of girls and 
boys in the room, all sitting round with the same 
dull expression on their faces, we should say that 
the whole group lacked animation. What makes a 
party animated and lively, is the fact that it is com- 
posed of a number of persons, each having a sepa- 
rate character to which he or she gives free play. 
The more easily and naturally each exhibits his or 
her character, the more animated and lively will be 
the fun of the party. 

Xow, do you not see how this applies to a picture ? 
The artist invites a number of different textures to 
his party or composition. Surely the party will be 
lacking in animation if he does not bring out the 
special character of each. The lady's face and hands 
will not contribute their full share to the animation 
of the whole composition, unless the character of 
their texture is expressed. It will not be enough to 
represent only the coloring of the flesh, for its beauty 
depends also upon its firmness and softness. Her 
satin dress will lose half its charm, if we are only 
made to see its shine and gloss. We know satin to 
be also soft and thin, ready to arrange itself in all 
sorts of delicate folds. This is a chief charm in the 
character of satin; and if this particular satin does 
not exhibit these qualities of texture, the dress will 
not do its proper share in helping the animation of 
the figure. Well ! if you agree with me about the 


A Guide to Pictures 

satin dress, I think that jou will see that the same 
thing holds good of the table on which her arm is 
resting, and the glass vase with carnations in it that 
stands near her hand. Do you not think that the 
character of the hand will be better expressed, if the 
separate characters also of the polished wood, the 
hard shiny cut glass, and the soft velvety flowers 
are playing their part ? They may not be so impor- 
tant as the woman and her dress, but in a composi- 
tion as in a party, everybody must do their share, 
if the affair is to be a complete success. 

The first great masters in the rendering of tex- 
tures were the old Flemish artists of the Fifteenth 
Century — the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, 
for example, and Hans Memling. Their country, — 
what we now call Belgium — ^had long been famous 
for its textiles. Silks, linens, cloths and velvets — 
its gold and silver and other metal work, its manu- 
facture and decorating of glass. The Flemish were 
a nation of craftsmen, skilled in the production of 
the most beautiful articles of domestic use and 
church worship. And this love for objects of beau- 
tiful workmanship was shared by her painters. They 
represented them in their pictures. They painted 
not only the character of the men and women of 
the time, but the character of the life in which they 
lived, and did this by surrounding them with the 
furniture and objects that gave distinction to their 
lives. So the very rug on the floor, the glass in the 
windows, the mirror on the wall in its highly 
wrought frame, as well as the clothes worn by these 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

quiet, serious men and women, have a choiceness of 
feeling. The room is not simply furnished, much 
less is it cluttered up with all kinds of tasteless De- 
partment Store " objets d'art." Every thing in it 
has its own distinction of beauty, suggesting the 
taste and refinement of its owners^ and so by its 
own character contributing to our appreciation of 
the character of the men and women in the picture. 
Another great master of texture was the German 
artist of the Sixteenth Century, Hans Holbein the 
younger. He too loved things of delicate and ex- 
quisite craftsmanship and often made designs of 
such things for the workmen of his native city, 
Augsburg. So he was fond of introducing such ar- 
ticles into his pictures. It was a joy to him to 
paint them, each one with its own individual char- 
acter of texture. Still, notwithstanding his love of 
them, he only puts them into his pictures when their 
character will help the character of his main sub- 
ject. So, when he paints the portrait of a rich 
merchant of taste, like Georg Gyze in his office, he 
surrounds him with many objects related to his 
work — inkpot, seal, scissors, ledger, and can for 
holding string, letters, and a scale for weighing 
money. There is a profusion of beautifully fash- 
ioned objects, but they all by their separate char- 
acters help us to understand more fully the character 
of the merchant himself. On the other hand, since 
characterization was Holbein's main purpose, he 
treats the portrait of the great scholar Erasmus, dif- 
ferently. Here he introduces only a small writing 


A Guide to Pictures 

desk, a sheet of paper on it, and a pen in the 
scholar's hand. These remind us that Erasmus was 
a writer; while the handsome rings on his fingers 
and a piece of finely woven material on the wall, 
tell us of another side of his character — that heside 
his love of learning, he had a taste for the beautiful 
things of life. 

Looking back then over what we have been say- 
ing, we find that when the artist suggests to us the 
different kinds of sensation we may receive from 
touching things, he greatly increases the expressive- 
ness of his pictures. By rendering or representing 
the textures, as well as the form and color of objects, 
he accomplishes at least four results. Firstly, he 
makes the objects more life-like; we feel as if we 
might really handle them and receive the sensation 
that such objects, if they were real, would give us. 
Secondly, he gives us a more keen enjoyment of 
their beauty; consciously or unconsciously we re- 
ceive a sensation of the pleasure of handling them. 
Thirdly, the increased life-likeness and beauty in- 
creases the general animation of the whole picture. 
Fourthly, this rendering of the separate character of 
each object contributes to our understanding and 
appreciation of the character of the whole subject. 
To sum up, the rendering of textures suggests 
reality, beauty, animation, and character. 

vT ^ 7. vr 4f w 

Atmosphere we have already alluded to in pre- 
vious chapters. We saw how Vermeer filled the 
scene of his picture with lighted air; and, in dis- 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

cussing color, we talked of it first as light, and then 
went on to study how the light which is in the air 
affects the light which is reflected from all objects 
that are visible. We found that colors differ from 
one another in the quantity of light they contain: 
in what artists call their values; the value of red, 
for example, being different from the value of blue 
or green. Also we found that each single color may 
have variations of value, according to the quantity 
and direction of the light which falls upon it. 

All this, you may say, has more to do with light 
than atmosphere. But the two are really united. 
What we call atmosphere, as you know, is the vol- 
ume of gases which surrounds the earth. The par- 
ticles from these gases are lit up by the light. We 
cannot see the particles, only the reflections of light 
thro^vn off by them. But though we cannot see the 
particles themselves, they can interfere with our 
seeing of other things. It is the layers or veils of 
atmosphere that lie between us and a distant hill, 
that prevent our seeing the bright green grass on 
the latter and the dark green fir trees. Seen through 
the atmosphere, the colors of the hill appear sub- 
dued, the very form and bulk of the ground flat- 
tened and, perhaps, indistinct. 

This effect of atmosphere is one of the things that 
we are now going to discuss. The other is that 
atmosphere penetrates everywhere. Suppose we be- 
gin with the second point. The atmosphere is in 
one respect like water ; it is a fluid. It flows in and 
out and around about and fills the whole space that 


A Guide to Pictures 

is not occupied hj some other body. But have you 
thought what this means to an artist? Or at least 
to some artists; for we said that Copley's pictures 
contained little or no suggestion of atmosphere. 
And the same may be said of a great many pictures 
by modern artists. They represent the form and 
color of things, but do not suggest that they are sur- 
rounded, or, as is often said, enveloped in atmos- 

Why is this ? Well ! in the first place, as you re- 
member, there are many artists w^ho do not profess 
to represent nature. When they use nature as a 
model, it is for the purpose only of getting the forms 
of nature, and these they improve upon, as they 
will tell you, so as to make the forms in their pic- 
ture " ideally perfect." These " Academic " or 
" classic " painters ^ as I have already said, think 
of art as separate from nature. On the other hand, 
even among those who think of art as a means of 
interpreting nature, there are many artists who never 
put atmosphere into their pictures. Or, if they do, 
it is not nature's atmosphere. 

Then what sort of atmosphere is it? I call it a 
studio atmosphere, because it is manufactured in 
the studio. The artist, feeling the need of softening 
the hard outlines of his figures and of subduing any 
harshness of color, spreads over the picture thin 
layers of transparent, slightly colored varnish. 
Through these glazes, as they are called, the forms 
and colors are seen, somewhat as if you were look- 

» See page 88. 

Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

ing at them through a piece of colored glass, and 
the effect is to merge or bathe them in a glow of 

This was a usual practice with the great colorists 
of the Italian Renaissance. Correggio's pictures, for 
example, are prized for their golden glow. It is one 
of the reasons of their beauty. But then, his idea 
was not to interpret nature. His subjects were 
drawn from the Bible, or the Christian religion, or 
Greek Mythology, and he treated them as his imagi- 
nation suggested. He saw them through the glow 
of his own imagination, and surrounded them with 
a glow that seems to place them far away from ac- 
tual things in a beautiful world of their own. Sim- 
ilarly, modern colorists, when they create pictures 
out of their own imagination, will suffuse them with 
an artificial atmosphere that helps to express the 
spirit of the scene. In fact, these atmospheric ef- 
fects, produced by glazing, are beautiful and proper 
in their place. But their place is not in pictures 
that profess to be studies of nature. In these it is 
as wrong to suggest an unnatural atmosphere, as it 
is to leave out all suggestion of atmosphere whatso- 
ever, which is, perhaps, the more usual fault. 

Since the true rendering of atmosphere is a part of 
the true representation of light and color, you will not 
be surprised to learn that it appeared in the pictures 
of Velasquez and of the Dutchmen of the Seven- 
teenth Century. We have already spoken of it in 
the case of Vermeer. It was from these artists 
that modern colorists, beginning about 1860, have 


A Guide to Pictures 

learned to study the effects of atmosphere and light. 
They have carried the study even further than the 
older men. Indeed, the rendering of light and at- 
mosphere has been the most distinct triumph of mod- 
ern painting. There are tv7o reasons for this. 

One is, that with the advance of scientific studies 
and mechanical inventions, people have become 
more than ever interested in the every day facts of 
life; and the writers, painters, and sculptors, fol- 
lowing with the stream, have studied more and more 
how to represent life and its surroundings, not as 
we may dream they should be, but as they are 
known to our actual experience. They have become 
ardent '^ realists " or " naturalists." " Kealists," 
because they are occupied with what we are in the 
habit of calling the realities of life.^ " ^Naturalists," 
because they love nature and try to represent her 
actual appearances, as they are enveloped in and 
affected by light and atmosphere. 

The second cause of the modern advance in ren- 
dering these qualities is again due to scientific dis- 
coveries. Scientific men have made a close study of 
light and color and the painters have profited by 
the results. Painting, in a measure, has joined 
hands with science. 

However, now that we have seen why some artists 
do not put atmosphere into their pictures, and 

J Later on I shall have something to say about these so called 
realists. I shall say to them, as Hamlet said to Horatio, "There 
are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our 


The Mystic Marriage of St. Catharine. Correggio. 


AgTC!" _~_^, 

Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

that among those who do some manufacture an at- 
mosphere of their own, while others try to render 
nature's atmosphere, let us study for ourselves the 
effect of atmosphere In nature. It will help us, if I 
begin by telling what we expect to find. First then, 
that the outlines of objects are softened; secondly, 
that the bulk of things seems flattened ; and thirdly, 
that as objects recede or stand further off from our 
eyes, their forms becomes more and more indistinct 
and their colors change. 

As to the first. Suppose you are standing on a 
street or country road, and a wagon passes you. 
While it is close in front of you, the body of the 
wagon and the wheels and the man driving, all are 
clearly outlined; you can distinguish distinctly the 
parts of the wagon and the character of the man's 
figure, whether it is fat or thin, strong or weak- 
looking, and so on. But, as the wagon passes along 
the road, its appearance changes. At first, it is the 
smaller details that disappear; they have become 
merged in the general mass ; then the outlines of this 
mass grow less and less distinct; you could not be 
sure now, unless you had seen the wagon close, ex- 
actly what its build is; nor does one part seem 
nearer to you than another, its bulk has become 
flattened, and gradually the whole affair looks to be 
only a patch of color against the color of the road. 

Do you remember, it was as patches we saw the 
cows which we met early in our talk? The reason 
then given for their appearance was that our eyes 
were not strong enough to distinguish their details 


A Guide to Pictures 

at sucli a distance. And this reason also holds good 
in the case of the wagon. But it is not only the dis- 
tance that reduces our power of seeing, but also the 
layers, or veils of atmosphere that hang between us 
and the object. We are sure of this on a foggy day, 
when the mist lies low over the country or city, 
and trees and tall buildings loom up like blurs, and 
everything beyond the distance of a few hundred 
paces is blotted from sight. But the fog or mist 
is only the atmosphere more moist than usual and 
with its moisture condensed by cooling. 

When you breathe on a mirror, the damp of your 
breath is condensed by the coolness of the glass. A 
film of mist forms over the mirror. Of an evening 
you may see the mist lying over the river or mead- 
ows; for the sun is gone down and the earth and 
air are cooling. But the upper air cools more quick- 
ly than the lower part, since the latter is still 
warmed by the heat stored in the earth. So, as the 
cooler air from above drops down, it acts like a 
mirror to the breath of the earth or the air that 
lies close over it ; and this air is condensed into mist. 
All through the night both air and earth are cooling, 
but the earth more slowly, so that there is still a 
meeting of cooler and warmer air and consequent 
condensations, and the mist is hovering over the 
meadows when the next morning's sun rises. As 
the sun mounts up, it begins to spread its warmth 
and the upper air is the first to feel it. Growing 
warm, it rises, drawing up after it the cooler air 
below. And as the cooler air is sucked up, the 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

warmer air closes in behind it; until, as this cir- 
culation of cool and warm continues, the warmth 
at last reaches down to the mists above the earth. 
And then commences that beautiful sight that you 
may see on some summer mornings. The mists, that 
a while ago lay like a blanket over the sleeping 
earth, begin to stir, as if they themselves were 
awakening from sleep. They tremble a little, then 
slowly stretch themselves, and begin to rise to meet 
the warmth of day. And as they rise, little wisps 
of mist become detached from the main body and 
float up and disappear, until gradually the whole 
rising mass is rent asunder by the currents of warm 
air into shreds and wreaths, which curl and float and 
soar and at last lose themselves in the warmth that 
now wraps the earth. 

Later in the day, if the weather is very hot the 
air, close above the ground, becomes so heated that 
it rises very quickly, and we see a shimmer of light 
upon its shifting patches. I mention this, because 
I wish you to think of atmosphere, not only as veils 
of gauze hung between us and objects we are look- 
ing at, but also as a moving, palpitating, vibrating 
fluid. We will talk a little more about this pres- 
ently. Meanwhile, let us note some of the effects 
of atmosphere upon form and color. 

We have mentioned that it softens the outlines of 
objects. This is only another way of saying that 
the objects appear less distinct; that even a chim- 
ney, though it cuts against the sky in strong con- 
trast, has not really hard sharp outlines. At first 


A Guide to Pictures 

sight you will think, perhaps, that it has; just as 
the cornices of the roofs may seem to you to have 
hard lines, and the windows and doorways to be 
sharply outlined. But they do not appear so to an 
artist's eye, and will not to yours in time, if you 
are observant. Suppose an artist with pen and ink 
should draw one of these houses, using a straight 
edge to make the outline hard and sharp. This is 
how an architect draws the design of a house, be- 
cause his object is to make an exact drawing for 
the builder to work by. But, if you have seen one 
of these architectural drawings, you will recognise, 
I think, that it does not look natural; that some- 
how or other it is too precise and tight and hard to 
suggest the appearance of an actual house. If this 
were his object, the architect himself would draw the 
house differently. He would make what is called a 
free-hand drawing. He would no longer represent 
the edges of cornices and chimneys and so on, with 
continuous lines ; he would " break them up " ; lift- 
ing his pen for a moment and leaving a tiny space 
of white before he continues the line; making the 
line thicker or thinner as he went along, and occa- 
sionally pressing on his pen to produce a dot. In 
these ways he will break up all the edges and out- 
lines that they may not be too hard, but may have 
the less distinct appearance that the lines of the ac- 
tual house present to his eye. For the same reason 
when he draws any bits of carving, such as the 
capitals of the columns of the front door, he will 
not represent every detail exactly, as if he were 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

making a working drawing for the carver. He will 
leave out some and break up others, so that, although 
he plainly indicates the style and character of the 
ornament, it will not seem hard and sharp, but 
softened, and a trifle indistinct, as the capital ap- 
pears to his eye. He will, in fact, make allowances 
for the softening effects of atmosphere. 

Up to this point we have imagined the penman- 
ship to be concerned only with the lines. Xow let 
us see how a great pen-artist, like Joseph Pennell, or 
Edwin A. Abbey, would carry his drawing further. 
He would see the house, not as a skeleton of lines, 
but as a mass, part of which is silhouetted against 
the sky, while the rest is seen in relation to the 
other buildings or objects that stand near it. Each 
according to his own individual technique, that is 
to say, his own particular way of using the pen, will 
make his building a mass distinct from the masses 
of the other buildings, of the ground, and of the 
sky. And on the masses of buildings he will make 
the windows appear as they do in the actual build- 
ing — namely, as patches, darker in color than the 
walls. All this he will do, because to his eye the 
different objects, under the influence of the atmos- 
phere, appear as masses of various colors in rela- 
tion to one another. More than this, when you have 
grown to appreciate fully the work of Pennell and 
Abbey, you will find that, though it is done in black 
and white, it seems to suggest color. 

Elsewhere I have spoken of the fact that many 
artists, especially modern ones, see nature as an 


A Guide to Pictures 

arrangement of colored spaces or masses in relation 
to one another. This implies that they are very 
little conscious of the edges or outlines of the 
masses. If they think of them at all, it is to try and 
prevent your noticing them in their pictures. They 
paint, for example, the head, and shoulders, and 
cheek of a man^ a bust portrait — with a dark back- 
ground. If you examine the picture closely, you 
will not find a sharp line, separating the head from 
the background. In fact the color of the hair and 
cheek seems to extend a little way into the dark of 
the background. The artist has dragged his brush 
round the head, so that it is impossible to say just 
where the background begins. The reason for this 
you understand, as soon as you step back and look 
at the picture from a short distance off. The head 
appears very solid; we can believe there is really a 
hard skull beneath the full flesh of the cheeks and 
the tight skin of the forehead. Yet the head does 
not seem to be stuck against the background, like 
a postage stamp on an envelope. Indeed, if the pic- 
ture is well painted, the dark part is not really a 
background. That is to say, it is not merely some- 
thing behind the head; it seems to have depth and 
to go back, but it also comes forward and surrounds 
the head. The latter does not stick out of the pic- 
ture, it keeps its place back within the frame, en- 
veloped in atmosphere that, though it is very dark, 
is penetrable. You feel, that is to say, that your 
hand could be pushed through it without coming up 
against some wall, as it were, that would stop it. 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

Xow I particularly wished you to notice that the 
head suggested to us that hardness of the skull and 
the varying firmness and tightness of the flesh. For 
it proves that the softening of the outline will not 
interfere with the feeling of hardness and strength, 
or firmness in the mass. The effect, indeed, is to 
increase it, since out attention is concentrated on 
the head and not distracted to the outline. On the 
other hand, do not suppose that the softening of out- 
lines is always intended to increase the suggestion 
of solidity. It may be part of an entirely opposite 
intention; namely, to lose sight of the idea of 
solidity of mass. For example, the French land- 
scape artist, Corot, often represented the masses of 
the trees as soft, dark blurs against the soft light of 
the sky. For he loved especially the early dawn and 
late evening, when the light is very faint and in the 
hush the trees loom up like quiet spirits. He 
wished you to feel their presence, but not to be con- 
scious of their solidity and bulk. He, you see, used 
the softened outline for a different purpose; which 
shows that in art, as in other matters, a single prin- 
ciple may be applied variously in different cases. 

These tree-presences of Corot are painted very 
flatly. The roundness of their bulk disappears into 
a flat mass. It was one of the ways in which he 
avoided the suggestion of solidity. But here again 
comes in the fact that a principle may have other 
applications; for flatness does not necessarily make 
the object appear unsubstantial. A house does not 
look so, yet its front may be flat. And Corot, as 


A Guide to Pictures 

other artists, and as you may, if you use your eyes, 
had discovered that in the open air all objects ap- 
pear flatter than they do indoors. The reason is that 
in the case of a room lighted by windows, the light 
is always stronger near the windows than it is in 
parts of the room further removed. The light is 
unequally distributed, so that there are more shad- 
ows to throw up the bulk of objects. But out of doors 
the light is more diffused; more equally distributed. 
Moreover, we view things from a greater distance, 
so that more atmosphere intervenes. The effect of 
both these facts is to make the masses of objects 
seem flatter. The lawn from a little distance may 
look very smooth; but, when you walk over it, you 
find the grass needs to be cut and the bumps to be 
rolled before you can play croquet. That maple, 
too, is a sturdy, solid fellow, but as you see its mass 
of pale green against the darker mass of hemlock, 
both seem flatter than they do when you are climb- 
ing among their branches. 

In speaking of the softening of outline and flat- 
tening of bulk due to atmosphere we have frequently 
alluded to the effect of distance on the appearance 
of objects. The further off the latter are, the more 
atmosphere will intervene, the less distinct will they 
appear. In the case of distant hills, the ups and 
downs of the ground, the bulk of the trees, even the 
stability and massiveness of ^* the everlasting hills," 
may be softened and flattened into what seems to 
be only a faint mass of color. 

Perhaps we have walked over these hills and 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

know them to be carpeted with grass; the greens 
also of the maples, oaks, cypress, each with its 
separate hue, attracted our attention. But to-day, 
from a distance, all these gTeens are lost in a vapor- 
ous hue of blue. It is this effect of atmosphere on 
color that we will now talk about. It is easy to 
notice in the case of the hills because of the great 
quantity of atmosphere that intervenes between us 
and them. But, if there were a row of maples ex- 
tending from the hills to us, so placed that we could 
look along their entire length, we should find the ap- 
pearance of their color gradually changing, as they 
recede from our eyes. In a word, to the sensitive 
eye of the artist the colors of even nearby objects 
are affected by atmosphere. 

!N^ow, those hills appear to be blue; another day, 
they will incline more to grey; yet another day to 
violet or purple, or pinkish. In winter time, 
around 'New York, they would very likely take on 
a dry, whitish color. In fact, the color will vary ac- 
cording to the condition of the atmosphere and the 
quality of the light; depending upon how moist or 
dry, how warm or chill, the atmosphere may be, and 
whether the light is yellow or golden, grey or white, 
full or feeble, and so on. It is these constant varia- 
tions of lighted atmosphere that give continually 
fresh interest to the beauty of nature. [N^ature never 
wearies us by being always the same. It is like a 
human face, whose expression is continually chang- 

Sometimes we see a beautiful human face, with 


A Guide to Pictures 

almost perfect features. But behind that beautiful 
mask may be a very dull, uninteresting mind. If 
so, the expression of the face will be passive, the 
opposite, that is to say, to active. It will not leap 
from grave to gay; kindle, sparkle, grow tender, or 
angry and joyful by turns. It will be — " faultily 
faultless, icily regular, splendidly null '' — no expres- 
sion. And we may even tire of its beauty; while 
a face, less perfect in features, may win us more and 
more and hold our interest by the charm of its con- 
tinually varying expression. The more we think of 
it, the more do we realise that beauty depends upon 
expression. It is the same with nature as with the 
human face. Its beauty is affected by expression 
and this is produced by the varieties in the lighted 

A moment's thought will satisfy you of this. Na- 
ture's features vary with the seasons, but change 
little from day to day. Every morning, during the 
summer vacation, the same objects greet your eye, 
but how differently you feel towards them, accord- 
ing to what we call the weather, which after all is 
the condition of the atmosphere. One day the fa- 
miliar features of the landscape will take on an ex- 
pression of gladness, some other day of dullness; 
and the more we study the features, the more vari- 
able will their expression appear from hour to hour, 
day to day, and season to season. 

I spoke just now of the movement of the atmos- 
phere. It is a fluid, that one day may be as still 
as a forest pool, another day may be stirred like the 


Light and Shade. George Inness. 


Color — Texture, Atmosphere, Tone 

ocean. We cannot see its particles, but we do see 
the light reflected from them; and, I suppose, it is 
the differences in the appearances of the lighted re- 
flections that make us conscious of the stillness or 
movement of the atmosphere on days when there is 
no wind. We need not be very sensitive to nature 
to notice these differences of the atmosphere at dif- 
ferent seasons of the year; how, on certain winter 
days, the air seems absolutely motionless; while on 
other days it seems alert and sprightly; how in 
early spring it seems astir with gentle life, while in 
summer or autumn it may be alive with animation 
or heavy with drowsy languor. 

The motionless air of winter has been rendered 
with marvellous truth by John H. Twachtman; the 
stir of spring by Dwight W. Tryon; the active air 
of summer by Childe Hassam, and its languorous 
drowsiness by George Inness. All these are Amer- 
ican artists, whom I mention only as examples. 
For much of the beauty of modern art, both Amer- 
ican and foreign, is due to the sensitive rendering 
of the variations in the atmosphere. For, the best 
artists now-a-days are not satisfied to paint the 
features of nature only; they aim to depict the vary- 
ing expressions on her face. And the chief cause, 
as I have said, of these variations is the constant 
change in the conditions of the lighted atmosphere. 



COLOR {CorUinued)— TONE 

WE shall frequently hear the words tone, 
tonal, tonality, applied to pictures. Peo- 
ple say, for example, this picture is rich in tone; 
that has fine tonal qualities; another has a delicate 
tonality. It is rather difficult to explain what 
these words mean, for they do not seem to be 
used in the same way by everybody. However, let 
us try. 

It is clearly a word derived from music, where 
its meaning is more definite. We speak of a piano's 
tone, by which we mean that, though it sounds the 
same notes as another piano, the quality of the 
sounds differs. We shall be using the word quality 
often in the present chapter, so let us be sure we 
understand its meaning. It is from the Latin word 
qualis, which means of what kind. Of what kind 
is this piece of dress goods ; what is its quality, com- 
pared with another piece, at first sight similar? Is 
it all wool, for example, while the other is cotton 
mixture ? Is it softer, while the other is harder and 
drier? Will the one stand washing, while the other 
will shrink? Similarly, when the same note is 
struck on two pianos the tone of one may be rich, 


Color — Tone 

mellow, resonant, while that of the other is thin, 
raw, and metallic. 

Why is the tone superior ? You know, I suppose, 
that when a piano string is struck it vibrates. That 
is to say, it ceases to be a straight line, and becomes 
agitated into a series of waves. In order to in- 
crease the volume of the sound a thin layer of wood, 
called the sound board, is placed beneath the strings. 
As the string vibrates, this board vibrates in sym- 
pathy, and so the volume of sound is increased and 
enriched. ISTow the least thing may disturb the per- 
fection of this sympathetic vibration. Accordingly, 
the superiority of the one piano is due to the fact 
that all its parts are of finer make and material, 
and are more perfectly adjusted to one another. 
They are in so perfect a relation, that there is no 
jar in any part, and thus the body of the instrument 
is a united whole. 

The tone of the piano, then, is due to the perfect 
relation existing between the parts of the piano. 
Applying this idea to a picture: it would seem that 
tone is the result of all the colors being so perfectly 
related to one another, that the vibration or rhythm 
of the whole color-harmony is increased. 

ISTow this is certainly, in a general way, the mean- 
ing of the word tone. So, although the word itself 
is new to you, the idea contained in it is not. We 
have talked a good deal about color-relations, rhythm, 
and harmony. You remember our talk on Ver- 
meer's picture. Well, his is a tonal picture, because 
of the perfect relation of all the colors to one an- 


A Guide to Pictures 

other. It is beautiful in tone; its tonality is ex- 
quisite. And do you remember one particular fea- 
ture of its exquisiteness ? I pointed out to you that 
it is full of lighted atmosphere, and that the atmos- 
phere seems to vibrate; that its rhythm passes 
through and through the picture, uniting all the 
masses of color into a harmonious whole. We noted 
the difference between this kind of rhythm and that 
in Raphael's Jurisprudence^ where the rhythm is 
the result of line. You could not describe that pic- 
ture as tonal; for in it color plays a very unimpor- 
tant part. Raphael was busied with the relations, 
not of color, but of line. 

I have reminded you of the rhythm of atmos- 
phere in Vermeer's picture, because some people de- 
scribe tone, as the result of fusing all the forms 
and colors into a whole by enveloping them in at- 
mosphere. But I think, if you have followed our 
talks carefully, you will see that this use of the 
word tone is pretty much the same as the one we 
have arrived at. For you cannot see the effects of 
atmosphere except in relation to the coloring of na- 
ture. And I like our explanation better than this 
one, because it is broader, and therefore includes 
more. It includes, for example, all Japanese prints. 
Many of them exhibit no suggestion of atmosphere ; 
yet they are always tonal in the sense that their 
colors are in perfect relation. 

E'ow, let me tell you of another definition of tone, 
which again is included in our own. Some people 
will tell you that a picture is tonal, because there is 


Color — Tone 

some one prevailing hue of color in it. By " prevail- 
ing" we mean that some one color plays the most 
important part. In Yermeer's picture, you may re- 
member, it was blue. The girl's skirt made a strong 
spot of blue. We are aware of other colors in the 
picture, but they play subsidiary parts. What we 
are most conscious of is a sense of blue throughout 
the picture — a prevailing tone of blue. So in 
Whistler's White Girl — Symphony in White, Num- 
ber One, there is a prevailing tone of white. 

But this is only another way of saying that in 
each picture the colors are in a perfect relation to 
one another. Whether there are more or fewer 
colors, and whether we receive an impression of many 
colors or one in particular, does not really affect the 
question. When all is said and done, tone is the 
result of color relations^ so arranged that they pro- 
duce a rhythmic harmony. 


An artist, when he paints a tonal picture, has in 
mind the relative dark and light of colors, and their 
relative coolness and warmth. Let me explain. 
First the relative coolness or warmth of colors. 
The artist regards blue as the coolest hue. As a 
matter of fact violet reflects even less light than 
blue; still, for his practical purposes, an artist says 
that the cool hue is blue, and he associates with it 
violet and green. On the other hand, yellow, he 
treats as warm, and associates with it red and 

And, if you consider for a moment, the distinc- 


A Guide to Pictures 

tion of warm and cool hues, which is practised by 
artists and founded on the nature of light, appeals 
to our own experience. You will have no hesitation 
in feeling that a bunch of violets, surrounded by 
green leaves, gives you a feeling of coolness, as com- 
pared with another bunch composed of red and yel- 
low poppies. 

Accordingly, if an artist has made up his mind 
that his tonal harmony shall be a cool one, he either 
composes it entirely of cool hues, or sees to it that 
some one or all of them shall ^^ prevail." The 
warmer hues may be introduced for the sake of con- 
trast, but very sparingly. And, of course, he will 
reverse his use of the hues, if he wishes the tone to 
be a warm one. This you could have guessed for 
yourselves; but I point it out because most people, 
I believe, prefer a warm picture. If it represents 
the sun setting in a mass of crimson over which the 
sky is orange, passing to yellow; and the effect of 
this warm light is sho^\TL on the surrounding trees 
and meadow, so that everything seems to be kindled 
into a dreamy warmth, we easily find the picture 
very beautiful. It is so attractive in its richness and 
mellow warmth, that the quiet coolness of that pic- 
ture opposite may seem tame by comparison, and we 
pass it by. On the other hand, if, recognising the 
difference of the intention, we study the latter pic- 
ture carefully, we may very likely come to admire 
it even more than the warmer one, by reason of the 
very quietness of its appeal, or because of the purity 
and freshness of feeling that probably pervade it. 


Color — Tone 

And now for the artist's other habit of consider- 
ing the relative lightness and darkness of hues. It 
comes into play, whether his tonal arrangement be a 
cool one or a warm one. For by this means he in- 
troduces contrasts of color; and as we have pointed 
out, it is by contrasts as well as by similarities, that 
a harmony is produced. 

There are two ways of considering the difference 
between light and dark. One is to treat it as an ar- 
rangement of chiaroscurOf the other as an arrange- 
ment of values. This is a distinction that I have al- 
ready explained ; but I will refresh your memory of 
it, in its special application to tone. 

Chiaroscuro, as you remember, means light and 
dark. So it could be used of the light and dark of 
values: but, as a matter of fact, it is applied to the 
distribution of light and shadows, adopted by the ar- 
tists of older times, and still used by many modern 
ones. In applying it, they represented the light, as 
coming from one direction, usually from behind 
their backs; and as striking the objects and figures 
in the picture at an angle, either on the right side 
or on the left. They also took care that the light 
should be concentrated or particularly bright at one 
spot. On the contrary, the artist who considers the 
light and dark of values, sees the light in the scene 
he is painting, and observes that it pervades all parts 
of it. 

But, to return to the chiaroscuro; its effect is to 
produce strong contrasts of light and shade: high 
lights, nearly white in the parts most exposed to the 


A Guide to Pictures 

light, and shadows almost black, in the parts most 
removed. To offset these strong contrasts the artist 
uses strong hues. The pure colors of red, yellow, 
green, blue, may be used in large masses. The re- 
sult is a tonal harmony of great richness, strik- 
ing magnificence, or surprising impressiveness. 

Of the last kind is Hubens' Descent from the 
Cross. If you study a photograph of it, you will 
see that the light does come from within the scene. 
It flows from the Saviour's body ; and the light, as it 
spreads, illumines certain parts of the surrounding 
figures, especially the heads and hands ; just the parts 
in fact, in which there is most expression of feeling. 
The sacred Body has the pallor of death, it is almost 
white, while black prevails elsewhere throughout the 
picture, the only other colors being the flesh tints 
of the faces and hands, and some dull green and 
red. It is an admirable example of the strong con- 
trast of black and white, and, let me add, of the 
amazing effect that such contrast has on the imagi- 
nation. For it is a picture that arouses one's emo- 
tions of awe and pity and reverence to an extraor- 
dinary degree ; and the more you study it, the more 
you will realise that the source of its appeal is the 
chiaroscuro. The latter, though the light is within 
the scene, is purely arbitrary. Rubens, that is to 
say, did not try to imitate the effects of real light 
and darkness; he chose to be the arbiter or judge 
of how he would distribute them. And in the ar- 
rangement he had three purposes. First, he wished 
to secure the modeling of the figures ; note the mus- 


Color — Tone 

cular force he has given to some of the men; the 
pathetic droop of the Virgin's figure; and the piti- 
able limpness of the Saviour's form. Secondly, he 
was able to make this composition of contrasts one 
of most impressive grandeur. Thirdly, as I have 
already hinted in speaking of the figures of the 
Saviour and the Virgin, he could by means of this 
superb invention of light and darkness, fill us with 
profound emotion. 

So much for the older method of considering the 
relations between light and dark. The modern one, 
depending on the light and dark of values, derived 
from the example of Velasquez and of Vermeer and 
other Dutchmen of the Seventeenth Century, I have 
recently explained in connection with Whistler's 
White Girly Symphony in White Number Two. So 
I will only remind you that in this picture there is 
practically no contrast of shadow. The whole scene 
is bathed in a uniform light. But the contrast of 
dark is obtained by putting in certain objects, the 
red box, the blue vase, and so on, the values of 
which are lower than that of the white dress. The 
artist has thought of darkness, not as the result of 
shadow, but of certain colors being darker in them- 
selves, because they reflect less light than others. If 
this is not quite clear to you, perhaps it will be, if 
you refer to the chapter in which this picture is dis- 

On the other hand, the modern artist, even if he 
works by values rather than by chiaroscuro, must 
often wish to paint a scene that does involve shad- 


A Guide to Pictures 

ows. We know that the scene may be filled with 
light and yet there will be certain places where the 
light is intercepted, so that shadows are formed. 
Our lawn in summer is aglow with warm light, but 
every tree and bush casts its shadow. Or the same 
spot in winter is covered with snow and the air is 
bright with cool light; yet here and there a trunk 
of a tree spreads a thin layer of shadow. 

But the difference is in the way the modern ar- 
tist regards shadow. He has studied nature for the 
purpose of representing the actual effects of nature ; 
and, in so doing, has discovered that the secret of 
all effects is due to the action of light. So he has 
learned to look at everything, shadows included, in 
its relation to light. A shadow to him, then, is not 
something different from light; it is a lessening of 
the light. Some of the light has been intercepted 
by the foliage of the tree, so that less light reaches 
the ground. It may be that very little light filters 
through the leaves. But, whether more or little, the 
spot from which the light has been intercepted, still 
contains some light. Even what we usually call the 
shadows have light in them. 

So, while chiaroscuro is a contrast of light and 
dark, the contrast of values may better be described 
as one of light and less light. 

Observe how this works. Since the modern artist 
sees light in shadows, he also sees color in them. 
And their color varies according to the quality of the 
light and according to the local color of the spot 
affected. The local color of your lawn is green ; there- 


Color — Tone 

fore, even under the trees, where little light reaches 
the grass, the latter will still contain a greenish hue, 
though the value of it will be much lower than that 
of the sunlit lawn. On the other hand, the hue of 
the shadow will also be affected by the quality of 
the light, differing according as the light is dull or 
brilliant, and as it inclines to white or yellow. This 
is too intricate a subject to attempt to discuss here, 
but I mention it in order that, if you are wide awake 
and interested, you may amuse yourself by studying 
these effects in your walks abroad. 

A simple way of starting the subject is to study 
the hue of the shadow cast by your hand on a sheet 
of white paper. I am working by the light of a 
Welsbach burner, and the shadow of my hand is a 
pale reddish purple. The other day, on a bright 
February morning, I laid my hand on a piece of 
white paper and the shadow was bluish. In each 
case, owing to the amount of light reflected from 
the white paper, the shadow was very transparent, 
and beautiful in its delicacy and softness. 

Well, this little example illustrates what artists 
have discovered about shadows lying on snow. They 
are very transparent, very delicate, and tend toward 
a hue of blue or plum color, according to the quan- 
tity of light. 

!N^ow to sum up our remarks on tone. When we 
speak of a picture having tonal qualities, we meai\ 
that the artist has so combined the related darks 
and lights and the related coolness and warmth of 
his colors that he has produced a harmony, threaded 


A Guide to Pictures 

through and through with a suggestion of rhythri 
or vibration. And the vibration will be most felt, 
when the suggestion of atmosphere pervades the pic- 

In the case of the Descent from tJie Cross we 
have already hinted at the power of tone to arouse 
emotion. I may add that tone always makes a 
strong appeal to feeling — to abstract feeling. The 
tonal harmony of an opal, whose pinks and greens 
are suffused with creamy atmosphere, arouses in us 
delight, quite apart from any suggestion to our 
mind. The delight is one of pure feeling. Can you 
not see that^ if an artist uses the tonal harmony of 
the opal as a color scheme for a picture, the har- 
mony would still delight us in an abstract way? It 
would be interwoven now with the subject of his 
picture, and we need not try, nor do we wish to 
separate them. But the sentiment of the figure or 
the scene will be all the more tender and lovely for 
the harmony with which it is suffused. 

I have in mind, for example, the pictures by the 
American artist, Thomas W. Dewing. They show 
you one or two women standing or sitting, appar- 
ently lost in reverie, while placed beside them may be 
a table and a vase and on the wall a mirror. If 
you ask me what the picture is about, I will say: 
Nothing. There is no subject to them in the sense 
that you can describe: who the girl is, why she is 
there, and what she is doing. So, instead of talking 
to you about the figures, I should try to draw your 
attention to the subtlety and beauty of the tonal har- 


Color — Tone 

mony. I should recommend you to look at it with 
a mind as free from outside thoughts, as when you 
were looking at the opal. Then by degrees, perhaps, 
as the beauty of the tone winds itself about your 
imagination, you will begin to find some sentiment 
of beauty suggested by the girl herself. 

What I wish you to understand is that an artist, 
who has the gift of composing tonal harmonies, em- 
ploys them to express the abstract feelings or emo- 
tions that he has regarding his subject. A celebrated 
example is Whistler's Portrait of the Artisfs Mother, 
that now hangs in the Luxembourg Gallery, in 
Paris. I expect you have seen photographs of it 
and remember that it represents an oldish lady, in 
a white lace cap and black gown, with her hands 
folded over a handkerchief on her lap. We see her 
figure seated in profile, in front of a grey wall. On 
it are two little black-framed pictures, and on one side 
hangs a dark green curtain. 

When it was first exhibited the artist called it 
*' An Arrangement in Black and Grey." It may be 
that he did not wish to drag his Mother into pub- 
licity or make a parade of his feelings as a son. 
But there was another reason, a much greater one. 
The abstract feelings that he had for his Mother — 
the love, reverence, and appreciation of her dignity 
and tenderness — took color in his artist's mind in 
an arrangement of black and grey. What a poet 
might have put into the rhythm and harmony of his 
verse, Whistler has expressed through the rhythm of 
a tonal harmony of color. 


A Guide to Pictures 

Another artist who was not a tonalist, might have 
contrived to put into the face and hands and into 
the lines of the figure as much dignity and gracious 
tenderness. But his picture would not move us so 
deeply as this one. For Whistler — how shall I de- 
scribe it? — has woven the dignity and tenderness 
into every part of the canvas. The mother sits alone 
with her own thoughts, but all about her is the 
music of color, choiring the love and reverence of 
her son. No wonder the picture takes its hold upon 
us ; until we see in it not a mother, but the type of 
what the conception of Mother means to us. 

Its tonal harmony is one that is distinguished by 
sobriety and reticence. It consists of quiet and sober 
colors; it does not talk to our hearts in brilliant 
glowing words. It moves us rather by its silence 
and reserve, its reticence. I mention this because, 
at first, perhaps, you will be more attracted by bril- 
liant and glowing harmonies; and they are beauti- 
ful too. They may fill us, as those of Rubens do, 
with triumphant joy; or plunge us into poignant 
emotion as do Rousseau's sunsets. But, just as our 
capacity of feeling knows no limits, so there is 
no limit to the variety of the tonal harmonies that 
may stir it. And we shall grow to find some of the 
most exalting and beautiful sensations in those har- 
monies that are very quiet, subtle, and that speak to 
our imagination in a " still small voice." 

As a farewell illustration, to sum up the meaning 
of the quality and expression of tone, let me return 
to sound tones. Have you ever thought of quality 


Color — Tone 

and expression in the case of your own voice ? I 
do not mean the singing voice. Many of us do not 
possess this kind of voice; but we all have a speak- 
ing and reading voice. What are the quality and 
expression of yours ? I am thinking now of the way 
you use it; of the quality and expression of the 
sounds you utter. 

When you speak ; do you drawl " through your 
nose " or chatter very quickly ? Are the sounds 
shrill or harsh or monotonous ? Perhaps you have 
never stopped to consider. It is astonishing how few 
people do. Most people think of their voice only as 
a contrivance for uttering words : they turn it on and 
off like a faucet and let the words run. How fre- 
quently one sees a pretty girl or woman, tastefully 
dressed and of charming manners, who is altogether 
pleasing as long as she keeps her mouth shut. But 
the moment she opens it, half her charm vanishes. 
There is no tone in her voice; no varieties of light 
and shade in the pitch of the sounds, no varieties of 
quietness or warmth in her speech; no rhythm of 
effect. Even if it is not harsh, it is disagreeably 

Or somebody else reads a passage from Shake- 
speare, say The Balcony Scene in " Romeo and 
Juliet." He is not as bad a reader as he might be; 
for example, he does not stumble over the words or 
jump over the punctuation. In fact, he reads intel- 
ligently, with considerable attention to the meaning 
of the speeches. And yet, after all, he reads very 
badly, for his voice fails entirely to bring out the 


A Guide to Pictures 

music of the verse. The scene is one of the loveliest 
ever written, and it was written to be spoken aloud, 
so that the loveliness of the thought might be con- 
veyed in sounds of corresponding loveliness. But of 
this our reader seems ignorant. He does not appear 
to know that Shakespeare intended every vowel sound 
to be uttered in such a way as to bring out the par- 
ticular quality of its beauty; and arranged the se- 
quence of the sounds, so that one should flow into 
another in an exquisite rhythm of rising and falling 
melody. This reader " murders " the beauty of the 
scene, because there is no quality in the tone of his 
voice and no tonal expression. Do you understand 
what I mean? 

If you have not thought of this before, I hope 
you will give it some attention in future. For it 
is in the power of everyone of us to improve the 
quality and expression of our voices. 




"VTOW that we have come to an end of our talk 
-^^ upon color, I must say a little about brush- 
work. I hope to show you that a good painter may 
use his brush in such a way that there is quality 
and expression in the actual strokes. 

I say a good " painter/' because I am thinking 
of that distinction I pointed out to you, between 
artists who are really painters or colorists, and 
those who are, more strictly speaking, draughtsmen. 
The latter, you will remember, pay particular at- 
tention to the lines of their figures, and then in 
spreading the paint, are careful that it shall not in- 
terfere with the outlines. On the other hand, the 
man who is, strictly speaking, a painter, sees his fig- 
ures as colored masses. 

I tried to show you that each method is right 
from its separate point of view. But at the time 
we talked about this, we had not studied the mean- 
ing of quality and expression. So I put off telling 
you about the possibilities of quality and expression 
in line. We will talk about it now, and then re- 
turn to the brushwork. 

Remember, what we are to think of now is a 


A Guide to Pictures 

drawing of a figure or object, represented simply in 
outline, with no added strokes to suggest light and 
shade. It may have been done with a pencil or 
brush, or in one of many other ways; but it is only 
outline. Now many people think the only purpose 
of the outline is to enclose the figure, so that we 
may see what the figure is. They may think the 
figure is beautiful, because it represents something 
of which they are fond; the plump body of a baby, 
for instance. But suppose the figure represents an 
old worn-out beggar, with long scraggy arms and 
bare, misshapen feet. Would they see any beauty 
in it ? I expect not. 

Yet, although there may be no beauty in the fig- 
ure, there may be a great deal in the lines which 
enclose it. If so, the beauty of line, of which we 
are now talking, must be an abstract beauty ; due to 
something in the line itself, independently of the 
figure with which it is associated. 

Suppose you draw a line on a piece of paper. 
What is the result? The line has taken a certain 
direction, and it is of a certain kind. It is 
thick or thin, or it begins thin, grows thicker and 
then diminishes in width, or vice versa. It may 
be faint or distinct; firm or wavering, and so on. 
Which ever kind it is it will be so, either because 
you wished it to be of that kind, or because you 
couldn't make it otherwise. In either case, it is you 
that have made the line what it is. If you have 
enough skill, you can make the line exactly what 
you wish. 


Brush-work and Drawing 

Again, the direction of the line is the result of 
a movement of your hand and arm. Very likely 
you moved uncertainly: you were not even sure in 
what direction it was moving. But, if you were a 
skilful and practised draughtsman, don't you sup- 
pose you could so regulate the movement of your 
hand and arm, that the line would take the exact 
direction you desired ? Yes, you would have as 
much control over the direction and character of the 
line, as a musician has over the keys of a piano, 
over which his hands move in various directions, 
sounding the various notes. 

But is the skill in doing this all that makes a 
good musician? You know that he must also play, 
as we say, with feeling. This means, first, that he 
must be able to feel the beauty of the music; sec- 
ondly, that he knows how to move his arms and 
touch the notes so as to draw forth from them just 
the quality of sound that the feeling demands, and 
to make the whole body of sounds render an expres- 
sion of the feeling. 

1^0 w, just as the feeling passes from the brain of 
the musician into the tips of his fingers, so it does 
with an artist. You will see him, as he tries to tell 
you about the beauty of something, circling his hand 
in the air, meanwhile curving his fingers and thumb, 
as if he were trying to grasp the beauty. It is an 
instinctive movement, due to his habit of expressing 
his conception with his hand. A sculptor will do 
much the same thing, only he is more apt to close 
his fingers and express his meaning with his thumb 


A Guide to Pictures 

— the part of his hand that he uses most in model- 

One of the most beautiful examples of feeling in 
the hand is illustrated in the modeling of a vase. 
The potter stands before a " wheel/' or table, the 
top of which revolves. There is a spike in it that 
holds in place the lump of clay. But while we 
watch, it has ceased to be a lump. It has grown up 
under the potter's hands and is a hollow vessel, 
every moment changing its shape slightly, as with 
his fingers or the palm of his hand he brings 
it nearer and nearer to the design that is in his 
brain. He stops for a moment, and we think that 
he has finished. But, no, he is only criticising it. 
It is not yet quite as he feels it should be; and 
again the wheel revolves and the hand, — oh ! so 
tenderly — coaxes the clay to receive exactly the line 
of beauty that he feels. 

And from the potter we may gain another insight 
into the beauty of an artist's line. I said that the 
clay grew up into the required form. And certainly 
if you have seen the operation, you will say that 
growth is just the word. Now in the line of all 
beautiful drawings there is the feeling of growth. 
Not in a metaphorical way, but most literally, the 
line grows under the artist's hand, impelled by the 
feeling in him that he is trying to express. 

Let me tell you a little experience of my own. 
Though I am not an artist, I have often made draw- 
ings. One day I was enlarging a piece of ornament, 
in which there were scrolls of acanthus leaves; big 


Brush-work and Drawing 

cabbagy sort of leaves, with a curving spine and 
crinkly edges. The chief point was to get fine wind- 
ing lines into the curves. For a long time I imi- 
tated the copy as well as I could, when suddenly I 
seemed to feel within me just how the curve should 
go. It was not a matter of seeing the copy, but of 
feeling the actual growth in my brain. And lo! a 
miracle, for one moment my hand was able to do 
what my brain prompted. That leaf actually grew 
under my hand. I could feel it growing. And of 
course that was the best bit of the whole drawing. 
The rest was mechanical; this bit really lived. 
Well, in my case that was a miracle and has never 
been repeated. But in that moment I learned two 
things — firstly, what must be the joy of an artist 
in the act of creation; and, secondly, that an ar- 
tist's line may be a living growth; and, in the case 
of really fine draughtsmen, always is. 

Since then I have watched the growth of trees 
and plants, and discovered, as you may for your- 
self, the separate beauty and character that belong 
to the lines of growth of each separate plant and 
tree. And, when you have done so, you will come 
back to the study of line in drawing, convinced that 
the beauty of line consists in its expression of life 
and character. I^ot only the life and character of 
the object represented, but the life and character of 
feeling in the artist. 

I^ow perhaps you will realise how a drawing, 
though it represents only an ugly old beggarman, 
may be beautiful. Life, in all its forms is wonder- 


A Guide to Pictures 

ful, even if sometimes horrible. And the expression 
of it by a thing so slight as a line is beautiful, be- 
cause we need not trouble about the object repre- 
sented, but be satisfied to enjoy only the life and 
character that the line expresses. 

It will also help you to understand and appre- 
ciate the abstract quality of line, if you study 
Japanese drawings and prints. For their way of 
representing figures and objects is not the same as 
ours, nor do we always know what the subject of the 
picture is about. Therefore we are better able to 
enjoy the line in an abstract way, apart from all 
consideration of the things that are represented. 

After this little talk on line, we may now pass 
to brushwork. It is no longer the thin edge that we 
are to keep in mind, but the mass, great or small, 
as the case may be; the mass of a gown, for ex- 
ample, or the mass of one of its folds. 

I need not tell you that an artist's hands may be 
alive with feeling when he holds a brush, just as 
when he has a pencil in them. In fact, what we 
have said about feeling and expression in line may 
be applied to brushwork. In the case of a man who 
is not merely a filler in of spaces with paint, but 
is by instinct a painter, the brushwork grows into 
life beneath his hand. Sometimes he lays aside his 
brush and takes a palette-knife, with which to 
spread the paint on the surface or to scrape the part 
already painted. Sometimes he uses no tool at all^ 
but kneads the paint with his thumb. Whether he 


Brush-work and Drawing 

employs these or other methods, is a matter of com- 
parative unimportance. The main thing for us to 
realise is that, whatever means he employs, it is be- 
cause he is giving expression to some feeling in his 
mind. There is a passage of feeling from his mind 
through his arm to his hand, and thence to the 

The swifter the passage is, the more vitality, as 
a rule, will there be in the brushwork. The reason 
is, that in such a case the artist is sure of himself. 
The feeling in his mind is so clearly comprehended ; 
he so thoroughly feels what he wishes to express, 
and is so sure of the way to render it, that there 
is no hesitation or sign of fumbling in the result. 
It has grown freely and naturally and the result 
gives us that keen and direct pleasure that we de- 
rive from what is brimful of life. 

You know how stimulating it is to listen to a 
speaker, whose words flow from his thoughts with- 
out any humming and hawing; and whose words 
naturally and exactly express the thought. In such 
a man's talk there is a living growth of thought. 
As you proceed in your study of painting you will 
learn to feel in brushwork either the presence or 
absence of such living growth. 

You will find sometimes, however, that the brush- 
work, which at first seems very much alive, is not 
really a living growth. It is more like the clever 
tricks that you perform with your bodies in a gym- 
nasium. It is merely an exhibition of vigor. I 
may liken this to the oratory of another sort of 


A Guide to Pictures 

speaker, who has a great gift of the gab but very 
few ideas. He pours out of his mouth a stream of 
vigorous, showy, fine-sounding words ; and fascinates 
you for a few minutes with the ^' exuberance of his 
verbosity." But presently, when you come to think 
it over, you discover how pretentious and slip-shod 
the whole speech was. He was exhorting to patriot- 
ism; but, where Lincoln would have left us with a 
few choice thoughts, so perfectly expressed that they 
will remain for ever in the memory, this man has 
only bedecked his generalities with a confusion of 
words. His speech is not golden, but cheap tinsel. 

Well ! you will find that there are painters also, 
so much in love with the exuberance of their own 
cleverness, that they are satisfied to do nothing but 
make a gymnastic display of it. 

You will find too^ that there are others, to whom 
the mere manual dexterity is so objectionable, that 
they deliberately try to make you lose sight of any 
brushwork in their pictures. Whistler was one of 
these. He used to say that a picture is finished, 
when the artist has completely disguised the means 
by which it has been produced. He wished the ex- 
pression of his feeling to reach our imagination 
immediately and fully, without any other considera- 
tion blocking the way or interfering with our ap- 

His method of painting was deliberate; a little 
added to-day, something more another day; the 
whole process extending, frequently, over several 
years. For the feeling which he wished to express 


Brush-work and Drawing 

was a very subtle one, so the living growth of it, as 
of many things in nature, was slow. On the other 
hand, most of the great painters seem to have been 
swift workers ; or at any rate their final result gives 
one the impression of having been executed in the 
vigor and glow of a swiftly working mind. 

The best way to learn to appreciate brushwork is 
to stand close to a picture, and observe the various 
kinds of strokes and dabs and streaks. They seem 
to have no meaning. But step back. Then all or 
most of the separate brush marks will have disap- 
peared. They are merged into one another and their 
meaning becomes clear. Then, after having thor- 
oughly studied the effect which the artist has pro- 
duced, you may again step close up to the canvas 
and examine the means by which he has attained it. 

If it is a landscape you are studying, you will 
find, possibly, that the sky, which from a distance 
seems to be grey, is really composed of streaks of 
blue and pink and grey. It is, in the first place, 
by these streaks of the brush, and, secondly, by the 
infusion of several colors, that the artist has suc- 
ceeded in making his sky have the appearance of 
atmosphere, extending far and far back. Then, if 
you examine the trees, you may possibly find the 
strokes short and stubby, so as to bring out the char- 
acter of the foliage; while, what from a distance 
gave the impression of being simply green, is also 
found on closer inspection to contain many spots of 
other colors. It is in this way that the action of 
light upon the foliage has been suggested; so that 


A Guide to Pictures 

the trees from a distance do not seem hard and 
heavy but penetrated with light and atmosphere. 

In this way, stepping nearer to and further from 
the picture, and continually asking yourself: What 
is the impression that the artist wished to convey 
and why has he done so and so? you will soon find 
that you are getting an insight into the quality and 
expression of hrushwork. 

E^ow one word more. A little while ago I al- 
luded to " finish." What is " finish " ? Most peo- 
ple think it means that every part of a picture 
should be brought up to a uniform degree of polish 
and precision. It should be sleek and shiny, like our 
shoes, when the man has finished shining them. 

Certainly you will see many pictures that seem 
to justify this explanation. But as a rule they will 
not be examples of good painting. You remember 
our talk on texture. Well, only some textures are 
sleek and shiny and polished. So, if this whole 
picture is of that character, some of the textures 
must have suffered. Then again, life is not uni- 
form, it does not show itself in all people and things 
in the same way. Therefore it is very likely that 
the uniform polish and precision of this picture has 
interfered with its expression of life. The whole 
thing is mechanical rather than vital. 

^o, you must be prepared to find in well painted 
pictures, all sorts of conditions of not seeming to 
be finished; all kinds of different styles, coarse, re- 
fined, bold, dashing, reticent, and tender, brilliant, 
and modest; almost as many different styles and 


Brush-work and Drawing 

conditions as there are painters. For a painter's 
use of the brush is an expression of his own in- 
dividuality and life, as well as of the life and char- 
acter of the subjects he represents. 

I have already told you Whistler's definition of 
" finished." It is perhaps too much a product of 
his own personality to be of general service. One 
more applicable to all kinds of painters and pictures 
is the following. An artist has finished his picture, 
when he has succeeded in making it express the 
feeling that inspired it. This will include Whis- 
tler's definition, and also the practice of a Titian, 
a Rubens, or a Velasquez, whose brush strokes are 
visible to this day, as witnesses of the "living growth 
of their conceptions. 

Further it will include many pictures that to 
your eyes seem unfinished. They look like sketches, 
and, therefore, you think, cannot be considered as a 
finished picture. But go slowly with a thought of 
that sort. As you advance in appreciation you will 
find that many a drawing of a few lines only, and 
many a little picture, composed of a few touches of 
color, have in them more of the living growth of 
feeling, more of the charm of abstract beauty than 
thousands of so-called finished pictures, in which 
the original feeling, if there were any, has been sub- 
merged in an ocean of trivialities. 



AT the beginning of our talks, you may remem- 
ber, I told you I should not have much to 
say about the subjects of pictures. For I wished at 
the start to make you realise, that what a picture 
is about is of much less importance than the way 
in which the subject is treated. A fine subject may 
be treated in such a way as to make a very bad pic- 
ture, while a good picture may be composed of a 
subject in which one is not particularly interested. 
In fact, I wished to help you to look at a picture 
first and foremost as a work of art; a thing beau- 
tiful in itseK because of its composition of form 
and color; beautiful in an abstract way, that is to 
say, apart from the ideas suggested by the subject. 
My aim has been to try to teach you to admire a 
picture in an abstract way, as you admire a Japan- 
ese or Chinese vase, simply and solely for its beauty 
of form and color. 

This is not the usual way. Most people begin by 
taking interest in the subject of a picture, and very 
many never get any further in their appreciation. 
On the other hand I felt that, if I could once get 
you interested in the abstract qualities of a pic- 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

ture, you would be started right, and that your 
interest in the subject would be sure to follow after. 
So our talk about subject has been put off until 

Pictures are sometimes sorted into groups accord- 
ing to their subject. There are religious pictures; 
pictures of myths and legends or imaginary sub- 
jects; portraits; landscapes; historical pictures, like 
Washington crossing the Delaware; genre pictures 
or scenes of every day life ; still-life subjects, repre- 
senting flowers and fruits^ dead birds, beasts and 
fishes, and objects of man's handiwork; decorative 
subjects and mural paintings. But this grouping 
does not settle the matter, since each of these sub- 
jects can be treated in more than one way. How it 
is treated depends upon the motive and point of view 
of the artist. 

So, the simplest way to grasp this matter of sub- 
ject is first of all to find out what is meant by an 
artist's motive and point of view. As usual, let us 
start with dictionary meanings of these words and 
then see their application to what we are discussing. 

Motive, then, is that which causes a thing to 
move, which impels it. What is the motive power 
of that train? Is the power that moves it steam or 
electricity? What is the motive of any particular 
artist, the force which impels him to adopt a certain 
method or to work in a certain direction? 

Point of view on the other hand, is the point at 
which a person stands to view something. You may 
watch a procession in the street from the point of 


A Guide to Pictures 

view of a window. But the word is more often used, 
not of where your body stands, but of where your 
mind stands. According to our birth and bringing 
up; that is to say, as the result of what we inherit 
from our forebears, and have acquired by education 
and experience, we each have our own point of view. 
For example, you will not hesitate to say that your 
point of view is American. You read about the 
Panama canal. You are not only interested, but 
proud, because Americans are digging it. If the 
French, who began it, were carrying on the work, 
your interest in it would be less and your pride nil. 
When you travel abroad, at any rate for the first 
time, you will not be able to help making critical 
comparisons between the way they do things in Eu- 
rope and at home. You will be apt to see every- 
thing from the point of view of an American. 
Your point of view is the result of your being what 
you are. And it is the same with an artist. Being 
what he is, and what he cannot help being, he has 
his own particular personal point of view. Being 
what he is, he also has his own individual motive. 
Through the union of motive and point of view, 
he sees things in his own way and in his own way is 
impelled to represent them. 

Since each artist is a person different to all other 
persons, the varieties of motive and point of view are 
infinite. There is no end to the variety; and, as 
you grow older, and continue your study of pictures, 
you will find more and more interest in looking 
into and discovering just what is the particular mo- 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

tive and point of view of each artist. For he can- 
not help betraying them in his pictures, any more 
than yoti can help betraying yours, if, being a par- 
tisan of Yale, you are watching a football game 
between Yale and Harvard. Just as your be- 
havior will betray your feelings, so is a picture the 
expression of an artist's personal likes and dis- 
likes. In studying pictures, therefore, you are also 
studying the personality of the men who painted 

I wish you to feel that this sort of study has no 
limits. Its interest will last you, as long as you 
live. At the same time my aim is to help you to 
enter upon the study. And at the start everything 
should be made as simple as possible. So, although 
motives and points of view are infinite in variety, 
let us see jf we cannot find some simple clue to the 
study of them. I think it may be found in dividing 
all artists into two big groups. On the one side, 
those who are inclined to represent the world as they 
see it to be; on the other side, those who represent 
things according to their own ideas. It is the great 
division between the naturalistic or realistic and the 
idealistic motive and point of view. Some artists 
are naturalists, or realists; others are idealists; a 
great many are a mingling of the two. 

This broad general distinction must be thoroughly 
understood. For you can see that it would be im- 
possible to enter into the merits of an idealistic pic- 
ture, if you insist on approaching the study of it 
from the naturalistic point of view. And vice versa. 


A Guide to Pictures 

Tlie only way to appreciate a picture is to ap- 
proach it from the point of view of the man who 
painted it We must try to enter into his mind 
and find out his motive and see the subject as he 
saw it. 

When we have done so, we may not like his pic- 
ture. That is another matter. Perhaps his motive 
and point of view, when we have discovered them, 
do not please us. Our own are so different, that he 
and we cannot really agree. Or possibly, while we 
agree with his motive and point of view, we do not 
feel that he has expressed them well. In either 
case, his picture is not for us. At least, not to-day ; 
for, as we grow older, we shall find that our own 
motive and point of view are apt to change. We 
have studied more, and know more, and may find 
that pictures, we once did not care for, we now 
admire; and, on the other hand, that the pictures 
we once liked have ceased to please us. 

E^ow for a talk about the difference between 
naturalistic or realistic and idealistic. When the 
art of painting began to revive in Italy at the end 
of the Thirteenth Century, the first aim of the ar- 
tists was to make their pictures more really resemble 
life and nature. I have already told you of Giotto, 
who gave roundness and natural gestures to his fig- 
ures, made the objects look more real, and suggested 
the depth and distance of their surroundings. Next 
of Masaccio, who gave his figures still more resem- 
blance to life, and filled in their surroundings with 
a suggestion of atmosphere. Then I told you of 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

Mantegna, who from the study of the remains of 
classic sculpture gave further naturalness of life 
and vigor to his figures; until, by degrees, from the 
observation of nature and the study of the classic 
sculpture, artists reached proficiency in the natural 
rendering of the figure. So far as form was con- 
cerned, their figures were absolutely natural. But, 
as yet, the naturalistic motive and point of view 
had not included the seeing and rendering of na- 
ture's light. That was to come later. 

On the other hand, the study of classic sculpture, 
while helping the progress toward naturalism, had 
started some artists in the direction of a new motive 
and point of view. For now the appreciation of 
the antique sculpture became increased and supple- 
mented by the study of scholars, who were translat- 
ing and explaining the newly discovered writings of 
the Greeks and Romans. Plato was the special fa- 
vorite, and the Italians of the end of the Fifteenth 
Century learned from him the motive of idealism 
and the idealistic point of view. 

They learned from his writings to think not only 
of things, but of ideas. Even to consider ideas of 
more importance than things; especially the idea of 
beauty. You will remember that in speaking of 
Raphael's Allegory of Jurisprudence, we said that 
Jurisprudence represented an abstract idea: the con- 
ception of what justice is in itself and of the quali- 
ties of Prudence, Firmness, and Temperance that 
it involves, apart from the machinery for making 
and administering the law. Men make laws, and 


A Guide to Pictures 

some are good and some are bad. Even the good 
ones are not always perfectly administered. To- 
day, in America, our conception or idea of law is 
higher than our methods of putting it in practice. 
Everywhere, always, men's ideals are higher than 
their conduct. 

Ideals, then, which are the motives, resulting from 
ideas, represent the highest effort of man after what 
is best and most beautiful. Most beautiful because 
it is best and best because it is most beautiful. 

Such was part of what artists learned from Plato. 
Do you see how they applied it to their art ? To 
Leonardo da Vinci, one of the first Italian artists 
to become influenced by the classic spirit, the teach- 
ing appealed in some such way as the following: 
The idea of Beauty is separate from the things or 
objects in which it is manifested; just as we may 
have an idea of smell apart from any particular 
flower ; or of love, apart from the object of our love. 
The highest ideal for an artist is to express in his 
pictures something of this abstract idea of beauty, 
to give to his figures beauty and grandeur of form 
and noble heads; to put them in positions of grace 
and dignity. He will not paint human nature as 
he sees it to be^ with all its imperfections, but will 
people his pictures with a race of men and women 
and children of ideal beauty. 

This was the motive that inspired those noble 
Italian pictures of the Sixteenth Century. It was 
from the high standpoint of abstract beauty that 
the artists looked at their subject. Their point of 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

view was idealistic. But this was not the only thing 
that made their pictures noble. The artists were 
inspired also by a great demand on the part of the 
people of their day. Religion held a strong place 
in the hearts of the people. They called for pic- 
tures to beautify the churches and, at the same time, 
to teach those that could not read the beauties of 
religion. To-day people have learned to read, and 
books to a large extent serve the purpose that pic- 
tures used to do. But in those days the people 
needed pictures; and it was this strong need, acting 
like rich soil to the beautiful plant of idealism, 
that helped to produce these wonderful pictures. 
They are the most wonderful that the modern 
world has ever seen, just because of this union 
of two most strong motives — the religious need of 
the people ■ and the exalted love of beauty of the 

But note the character of these pictures. Some- 
times, for example, the Virgin is seated on a throne, 
surrounded by angels and apostles, saints and bish- 
ops; or at other times^ Christ and his apostles are 
represented in some scene from the New Testament 
story. The first presents an entirely imaginary ar- 
rangement of the figures; the second makes no pre- 
tence to representing the scene as it may have ac- 
tually occurred. The apostles, many of whom were 
fishermen, have heads as noble as philosophers; 
robes arranged in beautiful folds of drapery, and 
conduct themselves with the grace and dignity of 
some fine classic statue. Every line, every arrange- 


A Guide to Pictures 

ment of form and space, is designed to assist in 
building up a composition of ideal beauty. 

Or with the same motive the artist would treat 
some subject of Greek mythology, such as the story 
of Psyche. This again was a response to a strong 
need of the public. Kot so wide a one as the reli- 
gious need, but still a strong one, for among the 
cultivated classes there was an intense interest in the 
old classic myths. 

Or from the same idealistic point of view the 
artist would decorate the walls of a City Hall. To 
this also he was impelled by a strong public need: 
the desire of the citizens to express their pride 
in themselves and their city by means of beauty. 
For by this time the Italians had learned to 
express all their highest ideals in forms of ideal 

But a change came. The Italians, long a prey 
to foreign enemies and quarrelling among them- 
selves, at length lost their liberty and their pride 
in themselves. Other nations surpassed them in 
learning and culture; and even Religion lost its in- 
tense hold on the public mind. With the loss of 
high ideals the glory of idealistic painting in Italy 
waned and disappeared. 

But artists of other lands continued to regard the 
idealistic painting of the Italians as a model of 
what came to be called " the Grand Style.'' During 
the Seventeenth Century Spanish artists imitated 
it in their religious pictures. But elsewhere it was 
used chiefly for great works of decoration; as by 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

Rubens in Flanders (Belgium) and Le Brun in 
France. The former, for example, built up a series 
of magnificent compositions in honor of Marie de 
^ledicis, the wife of Henry IV of France. They 
are now in the Louvre in Paris. Le Brun's vast 
paintings and tapestries, that decorate the palace of 
Versailles, were designed to extol the glory in war 
and peace of Louis XIV, who at the end of his long 
reign left his country poor and his subjects miser- 

In fact, idealistic painting that had once been 
great, because nourished by an intense religious 
motive or by the motive of civic pride, had sunk to 
being a means of flattering the vanity of monarchs 
or pandering to the luxury of the idle rich. So 
during the Eighteenth Century it continued to lan- 
guish. The form alone remained, growing less and 
less beautiful; the old spirit of it was dead. 

A new one, however^ arose and had a brief spell 
of life, for it was based on the awakened desire of 
the French people for liberty. In the years before 
the Revolution David painted idealistic pictures. 
He chose his subjects from the history of the 
Roman Republic, in order that by the example of 
its patriotism he might stir his own countrymen to 
action. The models for his figures he took from old 
Roman sculpture. His pictures fitted the temper 
of the time and helped the cause of liberty; but 
when jSTapoleon made himself Emperor David 
passed into his service, and the high motive for his 
idealistic pictures ceased. 


A Guide to Pictures 

Later painters have turned again to Italy, and by 
building up imposing arrangements of figures have 
tried to make the spirit of Italian idealism live 
again. They have not succeeded. Perhaps for two 
reasons. First, that the old Italian compositions 
are mostly of an allegorical character, and allegory 
does not interest the modern mind. We are inter- 
ested in realities. Second, that those compositions 
v^ere based on the beauty of form of the human fig- 
ure; the artists made their forms as perfect as pos- 
sible and placed them in an artificial arrangement 
that would produce a pattern or composition of 
beauty and dignity. But modern art is more con- 
cerned with rendering the natural appearances of 
the world ; and, if it idealises them, does so, as we 
shall presently see, by means of light and atmos- 


Meanwhile, that Seventeenth Century, in which 
Italian idealistic painting dwindled, saw a new out- 
burst of the naturalistic or realistic motive in two 
parts of the world; simultaneously, in Spain and 

I have already told you how Velasquez in Spain 
and the Dutch artists devoted themselves to the 
study of the persons and things actually present to 
their eyes. They were realists or naturalists. Hol- 
land had cut herself off from Planders and the 
splendid vice-regal Court of Brussels, and her own 
noblemen were busy fighting for their country's free- 
dom. So there was no demand for her artists to 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

paint handsome decorations. She had also cut her- 
self off from the Roman Catholic religion; and in 
the churches of the Reformed Faith there was no 
demand for great religious pictures. These two 
motives were lacking; but she had another one — 
a very strong one — the love of country and the 
pride of the people in themselves. It was strong 
enough to produce a great school of painters of 
little pictures, distinguished for their great truth 
to nature. 

Among these Dutch artists, however, was at least 
one who was not only a realist but an idealist. This 
was Rembrandt. It is of his idealism that I will 
speak here; and, to illustrate it, will tell you of a 
small religious picture in the Louvre: The Visit to 
Emmaus. You remember that Christ in the evening 
of the day of his Resurrection came upon two of his 
disciples and joined them in their walk to the village 
of Emmaus. Kot recognising him, they talked of 
what had happened. It was not until the little party 
had reached the inn, and the Saviour raised his 
hands in blessing the food, that their e^^es were opened 
and they knew him. It is this moment that Rem- 
brandt represented. 

When you see this picture you will find no gran- 
deur in it such as the Italian pictures have. The 
figures are those of poor ordinary men. Rembrandt, 
being also a realist, drew them from the real types 
of poor Jews in the Ghetto, or Jew-quarter of Am- 
sterdam. There is nothing of imposing dignity even 
in the Saviour's form and face. Whatever may be 


A Guide to Pictures 

the idealism in the picture, it does not depend on 
form. Its motive is different from that of the Ital- 
ians. Its motive is light. Prom Christ^s figure 
spreads a light. Is not one of his titles — The Light 
of the World ? And the light, flowing from this 
humhle figure, illumines the faces of his humble com- 
panions and, passing up to the vaulted ceiling, sheds 
through the gloom a mystery of tremulous glow. The 
picture like the subject it celebrates, is a miracle^ — 
a miracle of light. 

Do you see how this was an expression of idealism ? 
Rembrandt in studying the world around him had 
discovered, like other artists of his time, the beauty 
of light. Light by degrees represented to him the 
highest element of beauty in the visible world. While 
the great Italians had found the ideal or highest con- 
ception of abstract beauty in form, Rembrandt found 
it in light. Therefore, when he painted this picture 
and wished to show that these figures, though humble 
looking, were not ordinary men, and that the event 
w^as no ordinary meeting at a village inn, he pro- 
ceeded to idealise the scene according to his own con- 
ception of ideal beauty. He introduced into it the 
beauty and mystery of light. 

Please note that word mystery. A mystery is what 
passes beyond our knowledge and understanding, 
something that cannot be grasped by our mind and 
intelligence. Thus we speak of the mystery of life : 
scientists have discovered how the various forms of 
life have been developed on the earth, but the origin 
of life is still a mystery to them. Even when they 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

have traced life back to the smallest conceivable be- 
ginning, they are as far off from knowing what 
started that smallest beginning into life. But be- 
cause they do not know, do they say " Oh, what 
we do not know is not worth the knowing " ? Ko 
indeed! they realise, that hidden in the mystery 
is a truth, even more wonderful than what they 

Or again, some beautiful summer night by the 
sea-shore you are looking out over the water. The 
moon is low and her rays make a pathway of light. 
You gaze along it and at first the waves are clearly 
visible, heaving in the light; further off, the move- 
ment of the waves disappears ; only a luminous glow 
remains, growing fainter and fainter, till far away 
it melts into that thin line where sky and water 
meet — the horizon. Do you know that horizon 
really means boundary, the limit of our sight, the 
point beyond which our eye has no power to see ? 
But is there nothing beyond ? If we took ship and 
sailed beyond that pathway of light, should we ever 
reach the horizon? We should only sail on to find 
the horizon continually beyond our reach. 

Or we turn our gaze from the water to the sky. 
Above us, further than eye can travel, it extends. It 
is studded with innumerable stars. We may know 
the names of some of them, and have learned about 
their movements and their distance from the earth; 
but what do we know, what does any one, even the 
wisest and most learned, know of them, compared 
with our ignorance of them ? It will be well for us, 


A Guide to Pictures 

as we gaze into the mystery of the heavens, to be 
thinking less of the little knowledge that we have 
than of the miracle, the wonder, of what transcends 
man's understanding ; of the vast, impenetrable mys- 
tery that surrounds our lives. To do so will fill us 
with, what we call, a spiritual joy ; a joy, that is to 
say, which goes beyond knowledge, and affects that 
higher capacity of feeling that, not knowing what 
it is, we call spirit. This highest feeling, that we 
call spiritual, has always in it some element of mys- 
tery. The truth of this was curiously expressed by 
a little girl of my acquaintance, who was very fond 
of having her mother read poetry to her. I asked 
her if she understood a certain poem. " Of course 
not," was her quick reply, " what fun would there 
be in poetry if you could understand it ? " 

Well, I have spoken at length of Rembrandt, be- 
cause his way of idealising a scene through the beauty 
and mystery of light, has become the way of modern 
artists. But it was not until nearly two hundred 
years after his death that the world came round to 
this way. In the mean time Rembrandt and the 
other Dutch painters of his Century, like Velasquez, 
had been forgotten. The painters were busy trying 
to keep alive the other notion of idealism, the Italian 
one, based on form. Indeed, it was not until nat- 
uralism again became popular, that idealism by 
means of light was renewed. 


I have already told you of the revival of naturalism 
at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century ; how the 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

English landscape painter, Constable, was followed 
by the French landscapists of the Barbizon-Fontaine- 
bleau group. You remember that their point of view 
was nature as it is visible to the eye, but their motive 
was also to express the feelings of love with which 
it inspired themselves. 

Then, about the middle of the Century appeared 
Gustavo Courbet who loudly proclaimed himself a 
realist. He meant by this that he was not moved 
by sentiment, as the Barbizon naturalists were ; that 
he believed that the only thing which concerned a 
painter was to paint what he could see, as it 
appeared to his eye alone. He wished to limit 
his art to what is visible to sight. So he thought 
it was foolish for an artist to attempt to represent 
a scene from the Bible or any historical subject 
or subject invented by the imagination. As the 
artist had never seen these things, he had no busi- 
ness, as a painter, to try and represent them. He 
was going outside his own art and meddling with 
some one else's: the art of the writer or actor, for 

Courbet's point of view of realism and his motive, 
to paint only what he could see, were carried further 
by another Frenchman, Edouard Manet. He had be- 
come a student of the works of Velasquez, from whom 
he had learnt : firstly, a new way of viewing his sub- 
ject ; secondly a new way of rendering what he saw. 
This new way of viewing the subject is what is now 
called " imp'essionism.^^ 

I am sorry to have to trouble you with a new word ; 


A Guide to Pictures 

but I think you are prepared for it, since impression- 
ism professes to be only a more natural and real way 
of seeing things. Of seeing things, that is the point. 
It does not take account of what things are, but of 
the impression they produce upon our mind, when 
they appear before our eyes. You are at work in 
school, and a stranger enters the class room. He 
converses for a few minutes with the teacher and 
then goes out. What sort of man was he ? If there 
are twenty children in the class, and each, on arriv- 
ing home, relates the circumstance of the visit, there 
will probably be twenty different impressions of the 
visitor's appearance. They will agree in some points 
and differ in others ; yet each one of the impressions 
may be a true one — as far as it goes. How far it 
goes will depend on the quickness and thoroughness 
of your observation. But anyhow, it will not include 
a great number of details; it will rather be a gen- 
eral impression. 

If you look out of window into a street, you may 
see a number of figures on the sidewalks. You re- 
ceive a general impression of figures, moving or 
standing still; some men, some women, representing 
various spots of one color. ISTow a realistic painter 
might say, " Each one of those figures represents a 
real person ; I will paint him as he really is ; and, to 
do so, will ask him to stand still long enough for me 
to study him exactly in all his visible details." 
" And if you do," retorts the impressionist painter, 
" you will paint something so real, that it will be 
too real. For you never could see these people in 





Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

this way, if you look at them on the street. The 
greater part of the details would be lost in the gen- 
eral impression/' 

Well ! the more you think of it, the more right 
you see the impressionist is — from his point of view. 
He says, if you are going to be natural, be really 
natural; if you want to make your pictures look 
real, make them real in a natural way. If the 
only thing in art is to be as like nature as 
possible, and to represent things only as they would 
appear, if you suddenly looked at them, the impres- 
sionist is right. And what makes this way of looking 
at things particularly interesting is the fact, that it 
is so often the momentary effect in nature that is 
most beautiful: the effect that lasts but a moment, 
that is fugitive or fleeting, caught in an instant, be- 
fore it changes to something else. You know what 
I mean from your own experience. A certain ex- 
pression passes over your friend's face. " Oh ! if 
I could only photograph her now," you exclaim ; but 
by the time you have arranged your camera, it is 
gone, and cannot be brought back to order. Well, 
it is just that fugitive, fleeting expression of a sub- 
ject that the realist^ who is an impressionist, tries to 
represent in his pictures. 

So far I have tried to explain the impressionist's 
point of view, ^ow let us consider his way of ren- 
dering what he sees. The whole secret of it is the 
part which light plays in the appearance of things. 
Manet and the other impressionists, among whom 
Claude Monet and Whistler are the most important, 


A Guide to Pictures 

see every thing, as Vermeer did, enveloped in light. 
But they have gone further than he. 

They have studied much more closely the ever 
varying qualities of light, as it differs according to 
place and season and even time of day. Monet has 
painted a series of pictures the subject of every one 
of which is the same haystack. At least that is how 
some people might describe them. But, if they enter 
into Monet's point of view, they would say that the 
real subject is not the haystack but the effect of light 
upon its surface, and, as the effect of light is differ- 
ent in every case, none of the pictures are similar to 
one another. Each represents a separate fugitive 
expression of light. Monet, in them and other pic- 
tures, has recorded with extraordinary subtlety the 
impression presented to his eye. For Monet's im- 
pressionism was also naturalistic. 

Whistler, on the other hand, with no less subtlety, 
rendered also the impression that the things seen 
had made on his imagination. He was an idealistic 
impressionist. He painted, for example, a number 
of night-scenes, or " nocturnes," as he called them. 
The actual objects in them are of less importance 
than Monet's haystack, because in the dim light of 
twilight or night they are only faintly visible. 
Whistler did not w^ish us to be aware of the form 
of the bridge, or the boat, the sea and shore, or what- 
ever the objects may be. He wished us to be con- 
scious of them only as Presences looming up like 
spirit-forms in the mystery of the uncertain light. 
Such nocturnes as Battersea Bridge and the sea-shore 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

picture, Bognor-N octurne , appeal to us like Rem- 
brandt's Visit to Emmaus. Just as the latter's forms 
were humble, so the bridge itself is an ordinary sort 
of structure, and the sea-shore and the boats are 
without any unusual distinction. Yet in each case 
the scene has been idealised through the mystery of 
light, and appeals to our spiritual imagination. 
After two hundred years Rembrandt's new principle 
of idealisation^ founded upon the abstract beauty of 
light instead of on the abstract perfection of form, 
has been accepted by modern artists. 

To a greater or less degree all artists, whether 
naturalists or idealists, who are painting in the mod- 
ern spirit have been influenced by Monet and Whist- 
ler. The example of these two has spread far and 
wide the study and rendering of light. But, while 
their followers agree in this motive, they are inde- 
pendent in their points of view. There are some 
whose point of view, like Monet's, is objective. They 
are content to render the impression made upon their 
eyes. But, as their eyes see differently from Monet's, 
their pictures are different from his. Each is the 
record of a separate personality. Equally, while 
others, like Whistler are subjective, recording the im- 
pression produced upon their minds, their pictures 
vary according to the character and quality of their 
separate minds. In fact, in later times, a notable 
feature of painting is its diversity of motives and 
points of view. 

Let me try to explain this. Ever since the Ameri- 
can and Erench Revolutions, there has been a grad- 


A Guide to Pictures 

ually increasing interest in what we call individual- 
ity. The main object of these revolutions was to 
establish the right of each and every individual to 
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the 
idea of government now is to give every individual 
the chance of making the most of his or her possi- 
bilities. Your teachers, for example, are not running 
their classes as machines; they are trying to make a 
personal study, so far as possible, of each one of you, 
in order to help you to develop your particular in- 
dividuality. For a long time this has been the prin- 
ciple of education and government. The result is 
that there has been a universal increase in individu- 
ality, since numbers of people who had some special 
possibility have had a chance to develope it. To-day, 
in fact, there is probably nothing that counts more 
than individuality. This being so it is natural that 
we should look for it in art And, if we do, we shall 
find it. 

In former times there were " schools of art." In 
Italian art, we speak, for example, of the Florentine 
School, the Venetian School, the Koman School; or 
we speak of the Flemish School, and Dutch Schools 
and so on. In each case the artists, living in a cer- 
tain city or country, had sufficient resemblance among 
themselves in their motives and methods of painting 
to produce a certain separate style. So, to-day, if an 
expert sees an old picture, he is able to say at once 
and, more often than not correctly, that it belongs 
to such and such a school. 

But an expert of a hundred years hence, when he 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

sees onr modern pictures, will not speak of Schools. 
He may see at once that the picture is by an Amer- 
ican, a German, or a French artist, for difference 
of race and habit of life and thought do still stamp 
in a general way the pictures of each separate coun- 
try. But even within the limits of any one country 
there are as many varieties of motive and point of 
view as there are individuals. 

So in modern times, more than ever before, there 
is an individual, personal note in pictures, just as 
there is in books. The artist makes the picture an 
expression of his own personal feelings. This is one 
reason why modern pictures are inferior to the old 
ones in grandeur and dignity. The older ones were 
not only larger in size, as a rule, but they were im- 
personal, like a fine building is. The architects who 
designed the Capitol at Washington put their own 
personal expression into it. But we do not feel it, 
as we look at their work. On the contrary, it is the 
impersonal, monumental dignity of the work that im- 
presses us. But in most modern pictures, instead of 
what is impersonal, we receive a distinct impression 
of intimacy, of sharing the artist's feeling. And it 
is the expression of this that we not only look for but 
enjoy discovering. We often speak of it as the sen- 
timent of the picture. 

This sentiment may be of all sorts and shades of 
feeling, " from grave to gay, from lively to severe." 
It may be romantic in spirit, appealing to us through 
the suggestion of what is weird and surprising; it 
may be full of the tenderness or of the trumpet call 


A Guide to Pictures 

of poetry; it may invite us to gentle reverie, or stir 
in us a profound and poignant emotion. But I have 
said enough to point your way. 

* * * 4e- * * 

In conclusion let me sum up the contents of this 
long chapter. We have seen that there are two main 
streams of motive and point of view; the idealistic 
and the naturalistic. The former flows from the 
artist's desire to represent his conception of ideal 
beauty, the latter from his love of nature. We have 
seen that they have alternately reached their highest 
flood, because the conditions of the times supplied a 
great public need to w^hich each in turn responded. 
Lastly, we have seen that gradually both tendencies 
have undergone a change. Whereas originally both 
the naturalistic and the idealistic motive were con- 
cerned with form, they came to be concerned par- 
ticularly with light. 

Therefore, when you look at a picture, ask your- 
self : Has the artist simply tried to render the visible 
appearance, or has he also tried to make the subject 
interpret some feeling of his own ? 

If he is simply rendering the visible appearance: 
Has he been conscious only of form, or has he viewed 
the form in its envelope of lighted atmosphere? 
Further, has he tried to represent the visible appear- 
ance, as we should find it to be, if we studied each 
and every part of it separately; or he has tried to 
give the impression of the entire scene, as it really 
reached his eyes ? 

If he is interpreting through the subject his own 


Subject, Motive, and Point of View 

feeling: What is the quality of the feeling? Does 
the picture simply express the artist's consciousness 
of the grandeur or the loveliness of nature, or does it 
also interpret his feeling for the mystery of things 
not seen ? 

Here are a few hints for you in setting out to ex- 
plore the vast country of motive and point of view. 





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